John Clare: ‘An Invite, to Eternity’

I’ve been reading a fair bit of John Clare lately. I keep coming back to ‘An Invite to Eternity’. It’s a poem I identify with greatly, remembering experiences of going through a complete dissolution of any sense of identity, where even recalling your own name is impossible.

Alongside Clare’s description of the loss of identity is a yearning for a soulmate to share life’s journey. The persistent refrain is perhaps a calling to a gentler, feminine side of the poets’ own nature to join him on the journey. He is absorbed, taken over by the wonder, the magic and the beauty of being lost in every sense, yet still there is a part of him that is looking for comfort.

It is a poem about the fragmenting of the mind that comes with loss; but also contains some bigger ideas of the extraordinary power of the imagination to transform the natural world and create grandeur from the smallest thing.

I’ve read commentaries on this poem which interpret it as a reflection on torment, hell and the pain of an unrequited love. But I don’t read it as a pessimistic poem in the sense that he is describing, with great beauty, what we all pass through moving from life to death. Whilst identity fades with its loss comes something magnificent and mysterious that Clare is embracing. The power of that beauty and the sense in which it is something he has chosen, is expressed in the rigid, perfect structure of eight line stanzas made of rhyming couplets, that hold the poem together.

There is something very liberating about being able “to be and not to be”; a recognition of the fragility of the ego, which can change so suddenly and dramatically in the face of the circumstances of life.

An Invite, to Eternity

Wilt thou go with me, sweet maid,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through the valley-depths of shade,
Of night and dark obscurity;
Where the path has lost its way,
Where the sun forgets the day,
Where there’s nor life nor light to see,
Sweet maiden, wilt thou go with me!

Where stones will turn to flooding streams,
Where plains will rise like ocean waves,
Where life will fade like visioned dreams
And mountains darken into caves,
Say, maiden, wilt thou go with me
Through this sad non-identity,
Where parents live and are forgot,
And sisters live and know us not!

Say, maiden; wilt thou go with me
In this strange death of life to be,
To live in death and be the same,
Without this life or home or name,
At once to be and not to be –
That was and is not – yet to see
Things pass like shadows, and the sky
Above, below, around us lie?

John Clare

About Knitting Time: art and poetry on the theme of psychosis

'Knitting Time: a journey through loss' is a poetry and visual arts project reflecting on the theme of art and psychosis. A book and exhibition of the work is due to be launched at Pallant House Gallery in Chichester, West Sussex on 10 October 2013 to celebrate World Mental Health Day. During this research and development phase I want to gather responses, thoughts, recollections and comments, so please fill in my surveymonkey at http://www.surveymonkey.com/s/F2MN2MT and add your let me know what you think? Or feel free to email me via knitting-time [at] btinternet.com
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