I Am

'I Am' is a poem written by John Clare in late 1844 or 1845 and published in 1848. It was composed when Clare was in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum (commonly Northampton County Asylum, and later renamed St Andrews Hospital), isolated by his mental affliction from his family and friends.

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 tost

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 lifes 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.

Unlike much of Clare's poetry, 'I am', one of his best loved poems, does not deal with rural life, rather is a short, highly introspective piece, written whilst in an asylum. The poem was first published 1 January 1848 in the Bedford Times.

Peggy Reynolds in Adventures in Poetry on BBC Radio 4, explored the background, effect and lasting appeal of 'I Am' by John Clare. [Broadcast Sunday 7 December 2008, repeated Saturday 13 December 2008]

Soundings has three readings and a discussion of 'Iam'.


Literature ~ John Clare
(c) Keith Parkins 2008 -- December 2008 rev 0