Essays in Romanticism

Ruin and Revelation: John Clare’s Eco-Apocalyptic Aesthetics

Essays in Romanticism (2019), 26, (1), 55–69.


John Clare’s “The Lament of Swordy Well” has long been read as one of the poet’s many enclosure elegies, responding to the changes wrought upon Clare’s Northamptonshire home by the series of parliamentary Acts passed between 1809 and 1820. However, less attention has been paid to the ways in which the poem responds likewise to Clare’s engagement with theology, particularly his re-reading of New Testament prophecy in the years leading up to the poem’s composition. Read in this light, the fate of Swordy Well offers an image of environmental degradation as Revelation. Clare’s poem invites readers to consider the destruction of a small and seemingly inconsequential local environment as scaled apocalyptic events. Rendering such a scaled apocalypse allows the poet to simultaneously grieve the loss of a particular place and find in its destruction an opportunity for true poesis: a bringing-into-being of new forms made possible by a first-person account of destructive uncoverings.

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Author details

Greene, Amelia Z.