John Harris, Poet

John Harris was born in 1820 near Camborne, in Cornwall, in a two-bedroomed cottage high on the slopes of Bolenowe Carn. His father was a miner at Dolcoath Tin Mine and John too became a miner at the age of 12.

After 20 years working in the mine, one of his poems was published in a magazine. It attracted attention, and he was able to get a collection of poems published in 1853. He seems to have been given some independence by this, and was able to leave the mine and become a Scripture Reader in Falmouth, where he stayed until his death in 1884.

During his time as a miner, he combined working underground with writing powerful poetry concentrating on the landscape around Carn Brea and the scenery of Land's End and the Lizard. At the start of his writing he could not afford pen and paper and had to use blackberry juice for ink and grocery wrappers for paper.

In the 1840s he married Jane Rule, and they had four children, two sons and two daughters. Once married he lived in Troon (near Camborne) for twelve years. He then moved to Falmouth where he lived the rest of his life. His poems poems continued to give an insight into Victorian mining life in Camborne and in the more middle class world of Falmouth.

When his second-born daughter, Lucretia, died at Christmas 1855, the poet was distraught.

He published several volumes of poetry using Cornish landscapes as his inspiration, including Lays from the Mine, the Moor and the Mountains (1853) and A Story of Carn Brea (1863). Songs from the Earth, a selection of his poems published in 1978, has an introduction by D. M. Thomas.

“A Story of Carn Brea” was his special place which he described as the" pagan mountain" of his childhood. When he was dying in 1884, he asked to be buried at Treslothan Chapel at the foot of Carn Brea.

Until recently John Harris was totally unknown, and his poems were out of print. But a biography The Meads of Love: the life and poetry of John Harris published in 1994 renewed interest in Harris as a writer of national repute. Harris is now included in the Oxford Companion to English Literature.

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