WHAT IS YOUR image of the poet at work? Do you think of a solitary figure, striding over windy hills by day or seated at a quiet desk by night? Do you see the finished poem as the product of this lonely being - the pure expression of a single imagination?
If so, Jonathan Bate's excellent new life of John Clare may surprise you. Of all the great English poets (and his greatness is rightly taken for granted in this book), Clare comes closest to the popular view of the writer as a child of nature, driven by the Muse. In