Poems written in extremis
Out of infinite pain the mind of man can fashion beauty. John Clare, the English nature poet, born in 1793 who died in a madhouse in 1864, was the most poverty-stricken of any major poet who ever lived. He could not afford to buy paper so he made it by scraping clean layers of birch bark. He made ink by mixing “bruised nut galls, green copper and stone blue soaked in a pint and a half of rain water.” Some of his manuscripts are made of discarded envelopes stitched together and one of his greatest poems was written on the back of a handbill for a local election.