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On Energy and Thriving

The Shepherd’s Tree

John Clare


This month we’re talking about energy: where to get it, how to channel it, when to let it go. Businesses both absorb and generate enormous amounts of energy: to run smoothly, leaders must be careful that they know when the work needs to be done, but also when it’s time to blow off steam. Properly managing the sudden bursts of creative energy and sustaining the necessary attention of hard work allow us to live up to our full potential: it allows us to thrive.

The Shepherd’s Tree

Huge elm, with rifted trunk all notched and scarred,

Like to a warrior’s destiny! I love

To stretch me often on thy shadowed sward,

And hear the laugh of summer leaves above;

Or on thy buttressed roots to sit, and lean

In careless attitude, and there reflect

On times and deeds and darings that have been —

Old castaways, now swallowed in neglect, —

While thou art towering in thy strength of heart,

Stirring the soul to vain imaginings

In which life’s sordid being hath no part.

The wind of that eternal ditty sings,

Humming of future things, that burn the mind

To leave some fragment of itself behind.


To help us think how best we can thrive, we have John Clare (1793 – 1864), a poet who went largely un-read during his lifetime, but who is now considered one of the most important poets of the 19th century (so don’t worry if you sometimes feel underappreciated!). Clare was the son of a farm labourer, and knew the meaning of hard work: he found the best way for him to thrive, and best way to direct his creative energies, was to feel connected to his environment: by understanding his natural and social world, he better understood himself.


Above we have one of Clare’s classic nature poems. In this instance, he describes drawing inspiration from the durability and toughness of the natural world: ‘Huge elm, with rifted trunk all notched and scarred, / Like to a warrior’s destiny!’ Here he uses a simile (saying one thing is like another) to make the tree sound like a grizzled old soldier: stout and resilient in the face of adversity. The poem’s opening suggests that energy is often drawn from different sources: either from each other or the world around us. Leaders and employees, too, can thrive best when learning from their social and natural environment.


The poem moves gently between deep contemplation and relaxed remembrance, showing us that we must always carefully manage and channel our energies if we’re to make the most of life.


What Else?

Clare, because of his working-class background, was often referred to as a ‘peasant poet’. Sometimes, people even treat his beautiful poetry with surprise, as if he had no right to write them. But look how he handles the poetic form above: we once again have a sonnet (see here for more on sonnets), and it is as well-crafted as any more affluent poet, say like William Wordsworth. Clare was able to thrive not despite his upbringing, but because of it: he channelled his energies into his poetic gift, but remained always connected to his roots.

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