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'.