North Towards the Orison

In the footsteps of John Clare.


orison /orˈi-zən/


A prayer

ORIGIN: Fr orison (Fr oraison), from L ōrātiō, -ōnis, from ōrāre to pray.


'In the blue mist the orisons edge surrounds.' John Clare.


In 1841 the poet John Clare walked out from the asylum in which he was incarcerated at High Beach in Epping Forest to walk the 80 miles north to his home in Helpston, near Peterborough. He went in search of his first love Mary Joyce, who’d been dead for three years and who he believed to be his wife, despite being married to another woman. The walk took Clare 4 days.


“I had imagind that the worlds end was at the edge of the orison & that a days journey was able to find it so I went with my heart full of hopes, pleasures & discoverys expecting when I got to the brink of the world that I could look down like looking into a large pit & see into its secrets the same as I believed I could see heaven looking into water.”

North to the Orison 2colour_2.jpg


As Simon Cooke wrote, “That conflation of 'orison' (prayer) with 'horizon'...speaks of the indivisible closeness of Clare's vision with a sense of place.”




In December 1841, Clare was certified insane for the second time and admitted to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he remained until his death in 1864. It's not known precisely when, but some time between 1841 and 1846 he wrote the poem, ’I am’:


I am -- yet what I am, none cares or knows;

    My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes;

    They rise and vanish in oblivion's host,

Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes:

And yet I am, and live -- like vapours toss't

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise --

    Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

    But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;

Even the dearest, that I love the best

Are strange -- nay, rather, stranger than the rest.


I long for scenes where man hath never trod

    A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator, God,

    And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling, and untroubled where I lie,

The grass below -- above the vaulted sky.


For this series I've undertaken a similar journey to Clare, walking north in the hope of finding the orison. The images below represent the four days of Clare’s journey. I’m now starting to readdress the sequencing before completing the series.