"I am!" by John Clare


During his life, John Clare was only marginally known and esteemed. His focus on nature, innocence, and rural life earned him the common title "the Northamptonshire Peasant Poet." The son of a farm laborer, Clare's education was brief and humble, an origin he celebrated in his resistance to standardized versions of English grammar. This poem, written in the late 1840s while residing in an asylum, explores the tension between one's comprehension of one's individual identity and the inability to expose it to a larger community. 

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.

Reflection Questions

  1. What do you think is the reason that the speaker's personal identity is unknown to anyone else? 
  2. How do you interpret the second stanza? What is the meaning of the word "strange" in the final line? 
  3. How does the overall form of the poem contribute to its meaning? 
  4. Why do you think that the speaker longs "for scenes where man hath never trod" and places "where woman never smiled or wept"?

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