The barn door is open and ready to winnow,
The woodman is reading and getting his dinner
And calls to the maiden with little to say
Who takes the hot dinner and hurries away
The hen’s in the dust and the hogs in the dirt,
The mower is busy and stripped in his shirt,
The wagon is empty and ready to start,
The ploughman is merry and drinking his quart,
The men are at work and the schoolboy at play,
The maid’s in the meadow a-making the hay;
The ducks are a feeding and running about,
The hogs are a-noising and try to get out;
The dog’s at his bone and the ass at his tether,
And cows in the pasture all feeding together.
Within the opening line Clare’s speaker opens the barn door to the
working pastoral world both within the poem and to his readers. Establishing
the rural working ideal and its interesting relationship with food, Clare
preserves the essence of rural life and its vital relationship with nature; dismissing
the growing influence of industrialisation in the process. The speaker creates
a symbiotic relationship between mankind and nature through the rhyme scheme of
the sonnet. Using rhyming couplets, readers are shown the correlation between
tending to the land and consuming its fertile rewards. The grain being prepared to be undergo the “winnow”
(1) process - where a current of air is blown through grain in order to remove
the chaff, the protective casing of cereal grain - ultimately leads to the
woodman “getting his dinner” (2). Victorian artwork can be used to support this reading, Edward Ladell's Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches (above). The lusciously detailed and tempting diversity of fruit within Ladell's oil canvas painting establishes a utopian sense of plenty that can be found from sourcing and nurturing natural resources.
|Edward Ladell's |
Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches
However, the relationship of human characters with food in the poem
seems to be more complex than just simply feeding off natural resources. The
poem lacks specificity as the woodman consumes “dinner” (2) and the ploughman
drinks from “his quart” (8). These vague terms could be used to describe any
number of meals or drinks, which I think is Clare’s point. For Clare I believe
the finished, plated dish is slightly irrelevant, as emphasis is placed more on
the pastoral production of food. The pastoral scene in Edward Masters Village Scene with Figures before a Stable visually represents the bustle of activity of Clare's sonnet. The many figures interact with different aspects of nature, echoing the relationship between mankind and nature which is seen in Clare's poem.
|Village Scene with Figures before a Stable by Edward Masters|
Clare, John. "Sonnet: The Barn Door is Open." Ed. Thornton, R. K. R. John Clare. London: Orion Publishing Group, 1997. 7-8. Print.
Ladell, E. “Still Life of Grapes, Raspberries and Peaches” (1858). Victorian British Painting <http://19thcenturybritpaint.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/an-effusion-of-edwards.html => Date accessed 24/02/2014.Masters, E. “Village Scene with figures before a Stable” ( ) Victorian British Painting <http://19thcenturybritpaint.blogspot.co.uk/2013/07/an-effusion-of-edwards.html => Date accessed 24/02/2014.