"Clock-a-clay" is a ladybird, a ladybug in the US.
We found two origins of the name clock-a-clay. In both versions, it comes from Northamptonshire folklore that says that you can tell time by a ladybird. In one version you tap on the ground. The number of taps it takes to make the ladybug fly away is the time. In the other version you can tell the time by the number of spots on the ladybug.
This poem makes a direct reference to the Shakespeare poem "Where the Bee Sucks". That poem is from the point of view of a fairy and starts, "Where the bee sucks, there suck I, In a cowslip's bell I lie." You can see the similarity to the 1st two lines below.
This poem is from the point of view of the ladybird. Her home is inside the cowslip flower.
In the cowslip pips* I lie,
Hidden from a buzzing fly,
While green grass beneath me lies,
Pearled with dew like fishes' eyes,
Here I lie, a clock-a-clay,
Waiting for the time o' day.
While the forest quakes surprise,
And the wild wind sobs and sighs,
My home rocks as like to fall,
On its pillar green and tall;
When the pattering rain drives by
Clock-a-clay keeps warm and dry.
Day by day and night by night,
All the week I hide from sight;
In the cowslip pips I lie,
In the rain still warm and dry;
Day and night, and night and day,
Red, black-spotted clock-a-clay.
My home shakes in wind and showers,
Pale green pillar topped with flowers,
Bending at the wild wind's breath,
Till I touch the grass beneath;
Here I live, lone clock-a-clay,
Watching for the time of day.
*Pips (aka peeps) refers to all the petals of the flower.
This poem was written by John Clare (1793 - 1864).
Read by Lisa Yannucci.
Thanks and Acknowledgements
Images composed by Lisa.