Poem introduction

'I Am' is one of Clare’s best known poems. It was written later on in his life, while he was institutionalised in the Northampton asylum. You have to remember that Clare carried on writing while he was in this asylum and even found an amanuenses at Northampton who helped him to get the poems down on paper. These later poems lose some of the local specificity of the early work but, once Clare had been moved away from or outside of all of his important places, a different note often creeps in as he seems to look beyond the world and place his trust in his creator.

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.

Books & cds by John Clare