Date of Award

Summer 2021

Degree Type

Masters Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)



Committee Chair

Dr. Emily Stanback

Committee Chair School


Committee Member 2

Dr. Ery Shin

Committee Member 2 School


Committee Member 3

Dr. Jonathan Barron

Committee Member 3 School



This paper approaches the extraordinary cohesion of John Clare’s poetry through his violent reordering of subjectivity — what I call the annihilative turn — by way of disability studies and ecocriticism in his pre-asylum and asylum-era poetry. Disability studies allows Clare’s mental non-normativity to be understood as capacity rather than limitation, affording him unusually powerful insight into the tyranny of human subjectivity and challenging both modern and Romantic notions of madness. One of Clare’s primary targets is the normative human relationship to time, as reflected in “crip time.” The apocalyptic destruction of the natural world is the ultimate manifestation of this subjective reordering.

Despite ableist renderings of his work relative to his institutionalization (and not infrequent attempts to diagnose Clare and prove his mental inconsistency), this examination of the annihilative turn in Clare’s asylum-era poetry reveals his vehement rejection of human meaning-making, which originates in “[The Lament of Swordy Well]” (c. 1830). Clare’s visceral reaction protests the violence committed through the enclosure of Swordy Well and evolves with Clare’s mental state toward an annihilative future such as that in “Song Last Day” (1842). Clare’s poetry invites readers to reconsider their relationship to their environment, to time, and to their experience of the world as he seeks to liberate himself and the natural world from the consequences of irresponsible urbanization and subjectification, just as this new view of Clare’s work advocates a reconsideration of his consistent point of view in both his pre-asylum and asylum-era poems.


Available for download on Wednesday, June 26, 2171