I Am

  • 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 oblivion’s 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.

John Clare (July 13, 1793–May 20, 1864), whose poems of rural life and the natural countryside of England made him well known, was the son of a farm laborer. Married and with six children, he was impoverished all his life and his mental health disintegrated as he grew older. He had bouts of severe depression and as his alcohol consumption increased he became increasingly delusional. Clare spent several years at a private asylum and, after escaping, was eventually committed to a Northampton mental hospital where he spent the rest of his life. It was there that Clare wrote what is perhaps his most famous poem, “I Am.” Though long thought of as a minor 19th-century British poet, his reputation has grown considerably and he is now included among the major poetic figures of his age.

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