I Am          by          John Clare

 

I am---yet what I am, none cares or knows;

   My friends forsake me like a memory lost:

I am the self-consumer of my woes---

   They rise and vanish in oblivious host,

Like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes

   And yet I am, and live---like vapours tossed

 

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,

   Into the living sea of waking dreams,

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,

   But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

   Are strange---nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

 

I long for scenes where man hath never trod

   A place where woman never smiled or wept

There to abide with my Creator God,

   And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,

Untroubling and untroubled where I lie

   The grass below, above, the vaulted sky.

 

 

"I am" is the shortest complete sentence in the English language.  It is also a powerful opening for the above poem by Clare.  He lives, but no one cares.  In fact, no one even knows that he lives.  He has "woes" and other problems but no one is listening.  There is a sadness, a pleading to be heard in the poem.  Although the poem is of value as it stands, it is even more interesting when you know the background of John Clare.

 

John Clare (1793-1864) was a "natural poet" as he was an Englishman whose father was field laborer who was barely literate.   His mother was completely illiterate.  Clare obtained only enough education to be able to read and write.  Like his father, John Clare became a field laborer.  What is unusual is that he began composing verse "for downright pleasure in giving vent to my feelings."  In 1820 his poetry was published and he became a celebrity.  Other books of poetry did not do well and under the pressure of these failures his mind gave way and he was institutionalized for the rest of his life.  Some of his best work is from this period of his madness.  The above poem, "I am" is from the period of his madness.

 

I hope that you, like Clare, will be a creative person, creating "for downright pleasure in giving vent to" your feelings.  However, it is important that you maintain balance so that you do not become unbalanced as did Clare.  In that sense Clare teaches the two most important lessons---be creative AND maintain your balance.