BBC Four Samuel Johnson Prize
James Tait Black Prize for Biography
‘What distinguished Clare is an unspectacular joy and a love for the inexorable one-thing-after-anotherness of the world’ Seamus Heaney
John Clare (1793-1864) was a great Romantic poet, with a name to rival that of Blake, Byron, Wordsworth or Shelley – and a life to match. The ‘poet’s poet’, he has a place in the national pantheon and, more tangibly, a plaque in Westminster Abbey’s Poets’ Corner, unveiled in 1989.
Here at last is Clare’s full story, from his birth in poverty and employment as an agricultural labourer, via his burgeoning promise as a writer – cultivated under the gaze of rival patrons – and moment of fame, in the company of John Keats, as the toast of literary London, to his final decline into mental illness and the last years of his life, confined in asylums. Clare’s ringing voice – quick-witted, passionate, vulnerable, courageous – emerges through extracts from his letters, journals, autobiographical writings and poems, as Jonathan Bate brings this complex man, his revered work and his ribald world, vividly to life.