The Rude Rags of Nature

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Perhaps the following John Clare poem (with its unusual sing-song meter) ought to be the anthem of all re-wilding projects as it valorises the wild at the expense of the cultivated.  I came across it in WG Hoskins' magisterial The Making of the English Landscape.  Clare, of course, was not a re-wilder; rather, his writing chronicled the social and environmental impact of the 19th century enclosure acts and the de-wilding that went on when heath and moor were brought into cultivation.  Hoskins says that Clare provides a unique insider's view of the profound social (and environmental) changes that enclosure brought.

Swamps of wild rush-beds, and sloughs' squashy traces,
Grounds of rough fallows with thistle and weed,
Flats and low vallies of kingcups and daisies,
Sweetest of subjects are ye for my reed:

Ye commons left free in the rude rags of nature,
Ye brown heaths be-clothed in furze as ye be,
My wild eye in nature adores every feature,
Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me.

O native endearments! I would not forsake ye,
I would not forsake ye for sweetest of scenes;
For sweetest of gardens that nature could make me,
I would not forsake ye, dear vallies and greens:

Tho' nature ne'er dropt ye a cloud-resting mountain,
Nor waterfalls tumble their music so free;
Had nature deny'd ye a bush, tree, or fountain,
Ye still had been lov'd as an Eden by me.

And long, my dear vallies, long, long may ye flourish,
Though rush-beds and thistles make most of your pride;
May showers never fail the green's daisies to nourish,
Nor suns dry the fountain that rills by its side.

Your skies may be gloomy, and misty your mornings,
Your flat swampy vallies unwholesome may be;
Still, refuse of nature, without her adornings
Ye are dear as this heart in my bosom to me.

Clare is regarded as a Romantic poet, but there is more than a hint of realism in his descriptions of "the rude rags of nature", the "flat swampy vallies", and the "refuse of nature" "without her adornings".  His local heath might not have been as visually attractive as an unimproved wildflower meadow (or the best of cultivated gardens) but it was natural, local and, surely crucially, part of who he was.

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