BY John Clare
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.
‘I Am’ by John Clare is a poem about the fracturing of the self and a longing for a return to the untroubled past. Throughout his life, the poet struggled with mental health issues in the face of growing privatisation of the land. Critics argue for Clare as a proto-environmentalist poet, recording nature in the utmost detail and care. But as growing industrialisation changed the very landscape of his home, brutally cutting it into pieces, so did his identity feel the same fractures. Clare repeatedly uses dashes to syntactically emphasise the breaks in his self, using the form to inflect the content of the poem in which he describes his life as a “shipwreck” and his sense of self “like vapours tossed”. This sense of displacement makes him feel detached not only from his own sense of self but also from the people he loves, with Clare saying those he “loved best Are strange – nay, rather, stranger than the rest.’ In the final stanza of the poem, Clare longs to return to childhood – or in religious context, to a pre-sin world – where he can lay “untroubled” in the grass. In this way, Clare longs for the time when he had a clear and simple sense of who he was – a time when the land was untroubled and so was he.