John Clare's lost poems revealed

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A WEALTH of lost poems by John Clare, the 19th-century peasant writer now regarded as one of English literature's most fascinating figures, will be published next year.

The verses, dating from Clare's middle years when he went mad and was admitted to an asylum, will be released to the public by the academic who for 30 years has claimed the copyright to all the poet's unpublished work.

Eric Robinson, an Englishman who is currently professor of modern history at the University of Massachusetts, refuses to give any details of the collection before its publication next summer. He will not even confirm its size (there are thought to be more than 100 poems).

The poems' appearance, in two volumes from the Oxford University Press, will be one of the outstanding literary events of recent years. Most of the "lost" poems are contained in manuscripts owned by Peterborough Museum and Art Gallery and Northampton Public Library.

All rights to them are claimed by Professor Robinson, who is editor of the OUP's Clare series, and says he bought the copyright in the early Sixties from Whitaker, the London publishing house famous for its Almanack.

Professor Robinson, who is in Britain for a Clare festival, said: "It didn't cost much. In those days nobody bothered about Clare. It took half an hour to negotiate the purchase, and it proved very inexpensive indeed."

John Clare, born in 1793, was the son of an agricultural labourer and worked on the land for most of his life. He became mentally ill in the late 1830s, and spent much of the rest of his life at the Northampton county asylum, where he died in 1864.

His most famous poem, beginning "I am; yet what I am none cares or knows", is often seen as prefiguring the modern sense of alienation.