Finished my reading of the Autobiographical Writings of John Clare today with the final, haunting Journey out of Essex. How strange that final fragment is. The brief reference in an early paragraph to his troops following him is the only obvious indicator in the early paragraphs of the poor man's madness, but the feeling that there is no real personality, just a suffering body, behind the bare details of his escape from the asylum and subsequent wandering north is a kind of madness, I suppose. It certainly ties in with the general sense that Clare is never quite to be trusted regarding the selves with whom he presents the reader throughout his prose versions of his life and experiences.
Yet behind the majority of the poems, particularly those descriptive of village life and the various beings that comprise that life, it seems to me we know there to be a fully integrated creator, at one with his creation - as implied participant and observer. The mystery is how someone so simple can be so disturbingly complex.
Did he find himself as a Poet and lose himself in all other ways?