The Nightmare

[A drawing by Pat Foulkes from an old photograph and painting.
The old inn was pulled down in 1975]

My name is John Clare.  I am a poet, but the masters think me a madman.  I've only lived here in the asylum for one short year and in that time I've grown to love my friend and mentor, Doctor Allen, who runs this haven of rest.  I enjoy wandering the wild expanses of Epping Forest and the hills and steep slopes that overlook the winding river Lea and its marshes.  I miss, terribly, the countryside of my childhood and I yearn passionately for my love, my Mary, who awaits me at home.  They say I have to stay here until I'm cured of this dreadful malady, and only then can I go back home.

Dr Allen give me freedom to walk and encourages me.  Most days I tramp the woods and wild places, quenching my thirst at friendly forest inns and making my poems.  My scribblings are encouraged by the doctor who believes that writing them will help me recover from this illness.

Another day.  It's spring, the sky is azure and larks computer in song as they ascent the heavens.  I've had another sleepless night.  Mary continues to haunt me in my every dream.  She's with me, but when I turn to touch her, she's gone.  I yearn for her warm breast and loving embrace.  Soon, perhaps, soon.

I traverse the narrow lane which leads me to the heights of Lippits Hill.  The view is stupendous and the vastness of Hertfordshire and Middlesex extends before me to the far distant horizon.  The hill drops abruptly to the pastoral scene below.  Buzzards soar and circle in the up draughts of warm air.  The sun is unseasonably hot and mass regiments of midges pursue my weary frame.  I find a comfortable spot just below the crown of the hill, the south-west wind caresses me sweaty brow and I am partly shaded by a hawthorn tree.  I am at peace for a precious moment.  A shepherd on the neighbouring hill attends his flock, a kestrel hovers and a cunning fox hunts for an unwary rabbit.  My eyes are getting leaden and I lean back with a contented sigh.

I awaken with a start, my reverie disturbed.  Am I indeed a madman?  I do not recognise the scene - this is a nightmare of devilish proportions.  My glorious view is reavished, the downs with grazing sheep are fenced, enclosed; the old inn, The Owl, transformed, enlarged, its attractive antiquity destroyed.  Where are the horses, the donkey carts?  A flat expanse by the inn is now inhabited by strange metal creations with four wheels.  The exude strange loud sounds and a stench which assails me.

The house I live in is now completely surrounded by a grotesque ten foot high wall, all views totally extinguished.  The folly in the bounds is now hidden from adventurous children - the very catacombs they used to shriek and hide in now barred from them.  Who has done this?

I switch my gaze.  The meadow beside the inn is invaded by a cancerous growth of low habitations which appear to be without foundations.  They invade like a fungal finger down this hillside flower.  Strange metal apparitions arise from each dwelling like the antennae of malevolent insects, a ghastly scene.

I close my eyes to shut out this nightmare vision.  Please five me back my sanity, I pray.  As I slowly slide into a heavenly respite, a whirring noise, terrifying in its intensity, shakes the very ground beneath me.  Above my head hovers a grey metallic monster which looks like a gigantic bird of prey hunting with malign intent.  And I feel like its victim.  Then the machine rises, whirring still, and violently lurches off at great speed over the hill top.

I collapse in an ignoble heap, totally exhausted, my live energy seemingly exhausted.  I dream of Mary, caressing me, comforting me, giving me the love I've so earnestly beseeched.  The nightmare gradually recedes and I am safely enmeshed with my love, my Mary.

I awaken from my pleasant slumber.  The view is magically changed again.  The shepherd is still attending his flock and the larks competing in song.  All is again at peace.  The nightmare has been vanquished like a mist on a summer's morn.  Did I dream all this, or imagine it?  Or have I been transported through time, and actually seen a vision of the future?

Peter Relph
John Clare Newsletter - No. 63 - March 1999

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