Wisdom Smith Pitches his Bender on Emmonsales Heath, 1819

by David Morley

David Morley

Wisdom leans against an ash tree, shouldering his violin,
slipping the bow to stroke the strings that stay silent
at distance. All John Clare hears is a heron’s cranking
and the frozen bog creaking beneath his tread
until that ash tree bows with fieldfares and redwings
and the birds’ tunes rise up and twine with Wisdom’s.
The men gossip an hour and John Clare writes down
the tune ‘Highland Mary’ and the gypsy’s given names.
Once Clare is gone the birds refasten to the ash-crown.
Wisdom hacks and stamps the heather beneath his tent,
claps a blanket on springy furze to serve as mattress
and hooks a nodding kettle to the kettle-iron.
He hangs his head, listens, and shoulders the violin.
By practice and by pricking to mind he will master this.

Last updated October 29, 2022