‘As now I gaze’: Forms of Visual Experience in Clare’s Sonnets
Clare’s ceaseless experimentation with the sonnet identifies him as a major Romantic exponent of this 14-line lyric form. This chapter analyses Clare’s use of the sonnet to dramatise acts of seeing, looking and gazing at a variety of natural and man-made ‘old’ forms and objects in a rural scene, ranging from trees to ruined abbeys and castles. In his sense of the sublime duration of old, individual forms, Clare compares with Wordsworth. Contrary to the critical orthodoxy, moreover, Clare’s use of the lyric is experiential as well as denotative and descriptive. Elsewhere Clare is preoccupied with the sublime in the context of the destructive powers of time, but in his sonnets, as this chapter demonstrates, his emphasis is on the survival of ‘old’ things as sublime.