I Am by John Clare

John Clare lived from 1793 to 1864. He was the son of a farmer and came to be known as the “peasant poet”. Most of his work is not particularly accessible to young people, but the following poem could provoke an interesting discussion with able Year 5 or 6 students, and certainly for Key Stage Three students.

Clare suffered from mental health problems for much of his life and this poem, I Am, was written in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum. There is some background about the poem here. It deals with a sense of alienation and ends with a longing for a better place, perhaps in another life. This is how it begins:
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

You can read the full text of the poem here.

There is a brilliant performance of the poem here:
Possible activities
– Present the whole poem to groups of three. Ask them questions such as:
1. When was this written?
2. Is it written by a man or a woman?
3. How are they feeling and how do you know? (do not accept basic words such as happy or sad)
4. Can you guess where this poem was written?
5. Are they ultimately optimistic or pessimistic? (or similar vocabulary)
– Then reveal the background of the poem.
– Dish out phrases from the poem such as “the self- consumer of my woes”. Ask pairs to look up all the difficult words and come up with alternative phrases. Put these together in a class soliloquy. Compare this modern version with the original.
– Challenge groups to perform the original poem. Watch various video performances and assess them, compared with the class versions.
– Research the story of John Clare, his love of nature, his mental health problems, and look at other poems he has written.
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