Analysis of the poem

I’m going to analyse one of the most famous poem, if not the most famous, of Clare’s poetry. Here it is the poem, you can listen to it while you read it.

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


I chose this poem, because I though it was the one that illustrates better what people used to say about his mental health, that’s to say, his madness or insanity. He wrote it at his last years, when he was in the asylum, and when his supposed insanity was most accurated.This is the first thing that came to my mind when I first read it. As it is said, the first impression when reading a poem is very important. And then when you read it twice you realize something new, that you hadn’t until that moment, and it continues so, the more times you read it.

So, my personal experience with this poem was the following: just reading the first line I had a doubt about if he was a self-confident person, and he doesn’t mind what people think of him, or to the contrary, if he was a low self-esteem person. But at the same time, when he says “My friends forsake me like a memory lost;” It made me feel a kind of sadness, because it seems as if his friends forgot him, and he is totally alone in the world. Or, perhaps, he is very independent, so he doesn’t need anybody to cares about him. But, definetly, I opt for the first option, because he might be in the asylum when he wrote it, and he sometimes might feel sadness and loneliness.

Another thing that caught my attention was that he repeated four times the words “I am” just in the first paragraph. I don’t know if it is something that contributes to the rhythm of the poem or if it is just because he wanted to emphasise that he is alive, that he exists, as the famous quotation “I know, therefore I exist”.

In the second paragraph I observe a lot of contradictions like “the nothingness-the living” or “waking-dreams” that seem to be related with the contrast between life and death. And also, a huge sadness because he has lost his love for himself and his life, as he says “the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems”. It seems that he doesn’t have a single pinch of self-esteem. Maybe it is due to the loneliness he was buried in.

And finally, in the third and last paragraph, it reminds me somewhere that never anyone has stayed in; this place could be an imaginary place that the poet invents in order to create a feeling of uncertainty. The reader, I imagine, is a bit disconcerted when reading those lines. And then, he clings to his faith in God, and appeals to what should, or shouldn’t be done; what it is correct or wrong.

When he says: “And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept” can be seen as death or a grave, in a metaphoric way. And when he mention “untroubling and untroubled” he may refer to his friends as they gave him problems, or he had worried about them, and then, if the’s death he won’t worry about them anymore.

Related to the form, as you see, it is divided into three paragraphs and each of them has six lines. Regarding the metrics of the poem, I can observe that it is a very linear poem, it doesn’t have many changes in the form. And it follows a very similar line durinf all the poem.

This is my interpretation of the poem, I don’t know if it would be in the right direction or not, but it is what I understood while reading it. All along the poem we observe a lot of contradictions and he also plays with ambiguity, which allows the reader to do a free interpretation of the poem. It might be because the topic he is dealing with, is a bit sensitive. At the same time, I think that if someone is feeling sad or depressed, it is quite normal that he writes this type of poems, so the feelings it shows are those that a normal person has when he is not in his best moment. So if we see it this way, the topic of his madness wouldn’t be very reliable.


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