• "Mild health I seek thee": Clare and Bloomfield at the limits of pastoral

      Lafford, Erin; University of Derby (Taylor & Francis, 2020)
      In The Country and the City (1973), Raymond Williams dismantled the “pastoral assumption” that the rural laboring class were pictures of health and vitality, uncovering instead the reality of embodied suffering in laboring-class poetry. This essay considers how Robert Bloomfield and John Clare interrogated this “pastoral assumption” of rural health, suggesting that to claim they merely rejected it risks losing sight of their subtle forms of poetic critique. The body, mind, and verse of laboring-class poets were subject to simultaneous cultural narratives of robust health and sickly weakness, within which Bloomfield and Clare had to forge their own distinctive poetic voices. They wrote poems, I argue, that ostensibly upheld a pastoral ideal of health emanating from the natural world, but also critiqued this ideal through an artful hesitancy, especially in their use of apostrophe. I consider the influence of Bloomfield’s “To My Old Oak Table” (1806), and “Shooter’s Hill” (1806) on Clare’s early poem “To Health” (1821) and one of his middle-period sonnets in particular. Far from being uncomfortable or under-confident in the pastoral mode, Bloomfield and Clare brought their own aesthetic experiments and experiences of precarious health to bear on some of its key tropes.