Daily News header

A Long-Dead Laborer-Poet Speaks Truth to Power in Our Own Time

By  

This is a madhouse & I do not know your name

"Dear Sir, I am in a Madhouse & quite forget your Name or who you are you must excuse me for I have nothing to commun[n]icate or tell of & why I am shut up I don't know I have nothing to say so I conclude..."

So wrote the poet John Clare in March 1860 to a Mr. James Hipkins who had inquired about the poet's health.

Clare was to spend the remainder of his life, four more years, in a mental institution.

When I read this message in the 1996 Oxford Book of Letters I instantly imagined somehow a sensitive soul writing from Washington, DC, envisioning it as a madhouse in which the names of Americans matter only as data for predators.

Clare, a laborer, was driven mad, if it may be said that we are driven mad, by circumstances in England that in some ways resemble our own. Industrialization and reckless land development were destroying his beloved countryside.

I am sure Clare saw the same corruption of communities and their leaders by the relentless drive to tear down the forests and pave the fields, the almost maniacal contempt for nature and conviction that everyone can be bought.

I am: yet what I am none cares or knows, wrote Clare in his most famous poem. Could this not be the very voice of forty-one million Americans now living below the poverty line, the voice of the one in seven Americans who receives food stamps, the voice of all those lovely minds that will never have the benefit of a college education?

Clare spoke in the clutches of industrialization to the very ills that overwhelm us now: developers who don't give a damn about anything, officialdom on the take, dog-eat-dog savagery dressed up as trickle-down economics, callousness disguised as individualism.

Clare, like all fine poets, adored silence, and here he acknowledges it. Too bad our politicians in the madhouses of their creations can't appreciate the uses of silence. But of course poets have that pesky commitment to truth to which most politicians are immune. W.H. Auden in his unforgettable elegy to W.B. Yeats said we should let "the Irish vessel lie emptied of its poetry." Lovely as are the words and thought, I've never been convinced Yeats was emptied of his poetry. But Clare was. He had seen more than he could bear, and I sometimes think that we as a people are near to that.

James Hipkins cared, but Clare was past caring. His mind was broken by what he had seen, all that was engulfed in the consensual silence of his time. He had broken that mean silence and been rewarded with madness. Or was it madness to say this is a madhouse, sir, and I do not know your name?

Djelloul Marbrook

Djelloul Marbrook is a retired newspaperman. His second book of poems, Brushstrokes and Glances, will be published by Deerbrook Editions on December 20, 2010. His first book of poems, Far From Algiers, won the Stan and Tom Wick Poetry Prize from Kent State University in 2007 and was published in 2008. It won the International Book Award in 2010. His novella, Artemisia's Wolf, will be published by Prakash Books of India in December. His novella, Saraceno, was recently published as an e-book. His story, Artists Hill, adapted from the second novel of an unpublished trilogy, won the Literal Latté first prize in fiction in 2008. The pioneering e-book publisher, Online Originals (UK), published his novella, Alice MIller's Room, in 1999.

Del's book, Far From Algiers: http://upress.kent.edu/books/Marbrook_D.htm
New review of Far from Algiers: http://www.rattle.com/blog/2009/05/far-from-algiers-by-djelloul-marbrook/
Artists Hill, Literal Latté's fiction first prize: http://www.literal-latte.com/author/djelloulmarbrook/
His blog: http://www.djelloulmarbrook.com
His mother's art: http://www.juanitaguccione.com
His aunt's art: http://www.irenericepereira.com

  Please leave a comment here     If it does not display within 10 seconds, please refresh the page

* The views of Opinion writers do not necessarily reflect the views of NewsBlaze

Related Opinions News

A mistake for Israel to tolerate the intolerable. What gave the Arab countries the right to refuse to recognize a sovereign state, in this case Israel?
To this day, Eddyville remains a thriving community of two broken down trailers, a junkyard and a prefabricated U.S. Post Office with a zip code to service the various vagrants that inhabit the mobile homes around the town.
As we have seen this year - and for the past few years - Congress seems intent on an amnesty and also opening up the floodgates to allow two million legal immigrants per year.
Kingsley Olaleye Reuben interviews Cleveland McLeish about his journey as a writer and what inspired the title of his most recent publication to date.
If we condone their actions retribution will come from on high, of which it has already begun, we (every soul) good or bad will pay the price to some degree. It will come by storms, winds, rains, hail, snow, earth quakes, famine, and fire but it w
We contaminated rivers with our poisons, the air with our fossil fuel exhaust and clear cut rainforests by the millions of acres.

 

NewsBlaze Writers Of The Month



Popular Stories This Month

newsletter logo

NewsBlaze
Copyright © 2004-2014 NewsBlaze Pty. Ltd.
Use of this website is subject to our Terms of Service and Privacy Policy  | DMCA Notice               Press Room   |    Visit NewsBlaze Mobile Site