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 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 loved 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.

Dive in 
  1. What is the mood of the speaker in this poem?
  2. What is the speaker’s relationship to friends and family?
  3. Where does the tone of the poem shift?
  4. At the end of the poem, what is it that seems to bring the speaker a sense of comfort and even transcendent freedom?
  5. If you were going to recite this poem, how would you convey the shift in tone? Where would you pause or change the pace of your reading? How would you avoid falling into a sing-song pattern on the couplets that close the second and third stanzas?
  6. John Clare wrote this poem in an institution, where he spent much of his adult life, until his death, suffering from mental illness. Though his circumstances were extreme, many people are able to relate to the feeling of isolation, loneliness, and defiance captured in Clare’s poem. Write a three-stanza-long poem and experiment with writing in iambic pentameter (if the meter is too difficult, just shoot for a 10-syllable line) and also try to follow Clare’s rhyme scheme (ababab in the first stanza, and ababcc in the second and third stanzas). In the first two stanzas, write about a time when you felt isolated and use the third stanza to explore a way out of this feeling.

 

HELPFUL LINKS:

 

Read former US Poet Laureate Robert Pinsky introduce the poem on Slate:

http://www.slate.com/articles/arts/poem/1998/09/i_am.html

 

Two characters recite John Clare’s “I Am” in the television show Penny Dreadful:

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=yDgEqbHxit8