The asylum in the forest
Andrew Motion applauds a vividly sympathetic exploration of poetry, madness and identity
The Guardian, Saturday 2 May 2009
High Beach, on the edge of Epping Forest in Essex, is a strange poetic vortex. Wilfred Owen and Edward Thomas were stationed there during the first world war; we have no evidence that they met. Seventy-odd years earlier, a better-known literary overlap occurred in the same vicinity, thanks to one Matthew Allen. Allen was founder of the High Beach Private Asylum, the institution that first gave shelter to John Clare. He was also a friend of Alfred Tennyson, doctor to Tennyson's brother Septimus, and eventually (by persuading them to put money into a half-baked wood-carving scheme) the cause of their bankruptcy. You wouldn't know any of this today, driving through the Epping commuter belt, but it's a resonant place for literary archaeologists.
The Quickening Maze has been shortlisted for the Booker Prize.
My friends forsake me like a memory lost;
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish in oblivious host,
Like shades in love and death's oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil'd or wept;
There to abide with my creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.
~ John Clare
Is mental health an occupational hazard of poets? Link
We think the problem is nutritional; once that weakness is mended, the individual remains creative - and is well.