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I found this on a The Guardian article:

John ClareJohn Clare was steeped in nature. There is no literary sightseeing here: he writes from inside the landscape. “Young Lambs” could almost be a farmer talking: “The spring is coming by a many signs.”

Is "by a many" the same thing as "by many". It looks like the "a" was added for stylistic purpose. Also, is this expression still used or archaic?

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Part of the point of the poem Young Lamb by John Clare is to describe spring possibly through the eyes of a farmer.

Since it is a poem the author may take liberties of phrasing and cadence, and it appears to be a presented for stylistic reasons.

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It's from a poem. Poetry is not subject to rules in the same way that prose is. The article contains quotations from poems about spring. A visual clue, in a prose article, that a poem is being quoted, is the use of slashes to separate the lines:

Clare writes exactly as he sees: “Lies all his length as dead – and lets me go / Close bye and never stirs but baking lies, / With legs stretched out as though he could not rise”

The 10 best poems about spring (the Guardian)

The whole poem:

Young Lambs

The spring is coming by a many signs;
The trays are up, the hedges broken down,
That fenced the haystack, and the remnant shines
Like some old antique fragment weathered brown.
And where suns peep, in every sheltered place,
The little early buttercups unfold
A glittering star or two--till many trace
The edges of the blackthorn clumps in gold.
And then a little lamb bolts up behind
The hill and wags his tail to meet the yoe*,
And then another, sheltered from the wind,
Lies all his length as dead--and lets me go
Close bye and never stirs but baking lies,
With legs stretched out as though he could not rise.

Young Lambs by John Clare

  • believed to be a Lincolnshire dialect word meaning 'ewe'.
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It is certainly not current usage. Whether it was considered current in the 18th century when Clare was writing, I don't know.

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    It wasn't really current at the time, but it would have still been familiar at that time as approximative a, making the following quantity vaguer than it would otherwise be; a many now survives only with attributive modifiers (a great many, etc.). – snailcar Mar 7 at 7:09

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