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The Ballad of John Clare

by Hugh Lupton

Based loosely on the life of poet John Clare, this charming tale takes us through a year of country living in the 1800s, showing the customs of the villagers and opening a window on their family lives and courting rituals. The language throughout is poetic, but a couple of disturbing scenes stop it from being twee. Also a smattering of Romany words and local dialect, but nothing too obtrusive and the glossary at the end clears up any confusion.

Extract

The rhythm and hard labour of these harvest days have been a sweet relief to John. They have rendered him too tired to think. All morning the team of men, in smocks and wide-brimmed hats of rush or straw, worked together. They swung their curved blades in the easy accord that their health depends upon, for to be out of rhythm is to cut flesh to bone of the man alongside. From time to time they stopped to sharpen their blades, drawing the whet-stones along the curved blades, two strokes below and one above. The scythes rang out like cutlasses. Then they'd return to their harvest, Richard Royce leading, the others falling in behind, like fiddlers in a band with their bows rising and falling in perfect time.

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