John Clare was a British poet best known for his idyllic depictions of the English countryside. He was born in 1793 in a village in East Englad to a farming family. Like his father, Clare took to farming as a child while also receiving an education. As he grew into adulthood, he worked in various capacities, including as a gardener and as a militia-member. Clare's first collection of poetry, Poems Descriptive of Rural Life and Scenery, was released in 1820. As the title indicates, the collection is indicative of Clare's adoration of rural England, the landscape, and its people.
Clare married in 1820 and eventually would have six children. During this time, he faltered as a writer and grew increasingly depressed. As a result, his health suffered considerably and he only published one poetry book between 1821 and 1827. His next collection, The Rural Muse, would not appear until 1835. By this time, his mental illness had progressed considerably, and he was drinking heavily. After a period of erratic behavior, he was placed in a mental institution in 1837. Clare continued to write for several years, with his scattered poetry becoming increasingly bleak and surreal. He would remain institutionalized until his death in 1864.
Although Clare's life was marked with tragedy, he did not evade favorable attention. In the 20th century, a succession of poets named Clare as a paramount inspiration, including John Ashbery. As a result, his poems were anthologized and compiled once again. One such collection arrived in 2003, and was named after one of Clare's most celebrated poems: I Am: The Selected Poetry of John Clare. The expansive collection features selections from across Clare's career. Beginning with his early, romantic work, the collection chronologically follows Clare as his illness is reflected in his work. It is important to note that the editor, Jonathan Bate, made frequent and heavy edits throughout the collection. Whereas much of Clare's original poetry featured a characteristic lack of punctuation, Bate systematically added punctuation across the work. While the collection is a comprehensive demonstration of Clare's writing, it also suffers from its attempt to alter Clare's own work.