• John Clare, herbalism, and elegy

      Lafford, Erin; University of Derby (Edinburgh University Press, 2020)
      Discussions of Clare’s engagement with botany often trace his fraught relationship with taxonomy, exploring his admiration for common names over the ‘dark system’ of Linnaean classification. This essay expands understanding of Clare’s botanical imagination by considering how he brings his botanical ‘taste’ to bear on the flower as a key figure of elegiac consolation. I refocus attention on his formative preference for pre-Linnaean herbalism and explore how it informs his engagement with elegiac tradition and imagery, especially in relation to Gray’s ‘Elegy’. I attend to how herbalism is brought into relationship with poetic representations of the floral, focussing especially on the connection between Clare’s preference for herbals and Elizabeth Kent’s Flora Domestica. I then discuss ‘Cauper Green’ and ‘The Village Doctress’ (Clare’s most sustained poetic discussions of herbalism) as elegies that try to reconcile the finite temporality of human life with the regenerative life cycles of plants and their flowers.