Date of Award


Publication Type

Master Thesis

Degree Name



English Language, Literature, and Creative Writing

First Advisor

Matheson, Suzanne


Enclosure, Helpstone, Local poetry, Northborough, Ornithology, Romanticism




In this thesis, I explore the Romantic poet John Clare’s remarkable relationship with birds. Clare (1793-1864) was interested in birds for his entire life, writing over one hundred poems devoted to a wide range of species. As an under-educated member of the working class, Clare’s sustained attention to birds was particularly significant. Although he demonstrated a lifelong love of birds, Clare’s emotional circumstances also shaped the way in which he observed and wrote about them. His relocations from his home village of Helpstone in Northamptonshire to Northborough, and later to two different asylums, influenced his ability to comprehend birds. Uprooted from his secure nesting place of Helpstone and weighed down increasingly by despair, Clare’s senses dulled and his transcriptions of bird song became far less intricate, immediate, and exact. I also investigate the impact of land enclosure in Helpstone, which Clare strongly opposes in his verse. In doing so, Clare reveals his strong identification with birds and his desire to protect them as their habitat is transformed. By examining his bird poetry composed at several distinct periods in Clare’s life, I hope to illuminate his fluctuating mental state. This study will examine the effects of physical dislocation on a quintessentially local poet, suggesting his compromised status as a listener in the soundscapes of unfamiliar territory.