Featured Poem: I Am by John Clare

From Sophie Johnson, Literary Learning Coordinator

The sixth annual Global Dignity Day is taking place on Wednesday 16th October and will be celebrated in over 50 countries across the world, including the UK. To help celebrate, all Reader Organisation staff running groups in the week 14th-18th October will be using a piece of literature based around the concept of ‘dignity’. My personal selection will be the wonderful ‘I Am’ by John Clare, in which the poet seeks to make sense of life, loneliness and all the struggles that come with constantly being in our own heads.

Clare, who wrote the poem during time spent at Northampton County Asylum, acknowledges his feelings of isolation, admitting ‘friends forsake me like a memory lost’. However, even when longing for a life alone with God ‘above the vaulted sky’, for a time before he’s been failed by others and consumed by his own fears, Clare proclaims ‘And yet I am!’  For me, the real dignity of this poem comes from its admission that, whilst you may be lost in oblivion, you’re still here – there’s still the chance to make things right…

 

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 shades in love and death’s oblivion lost;
And yet I am! and live with shadows tost

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
And e’en the dearest–that I loved the best–
Are strange–nay, rather stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smil’d 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.

John Clare

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