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I Am summary and critical analysis


“I Am” by John Clare is a deeply introspective poem that delves into the poet’s feelings of isolation, existential despair, and his longing for a transcendental connection. The poem captures Clare’s sense of detachment from the world around him, his inner turmoil, and his yearning for peace and solace.

Critical Analysis

John Clare’s “I Am” is a profound exploration of self, identity, and existential angst. The poem’s somber tone and introspective nature reflect Clare’s own struggles with mental health and his feelings of alienation. Throughout the poem, there’s a palpable sense of loneliness and a desperate search for meaning. Clare’s use of the phrase “I Am” is both a declaration of existence and a question of identity. While he acknowledges his existence, he grapples with the purpose and meaning of that existence. The poem’s ending, where Clare speaks of a future peace “where to be at peace,” suggests a yearning for relief, perhaps in the afterlife, from the existential pain he feels.


  1. Isolation and Loneliness: The poem strongly conveys feelings of detachment and solitude, with Clare feeling disconnected from the world around him.
  2. Search for Identity: The repeated phrase “I Am” underscores Clare’s quest for self-understanding and identity.
  3. Existential Despair: The poem touches on themes of existentialism, with Clare pondering the meaning and purpose of his existence.
  4. Hope and Transcendence: Despite the prevailing somber tone, the poem ends on a note of hope, suggesting a belief in an afterlife or a realm beyond the present where peace can be found.

Literary Devices

  1. Repetition: The phrase “I Am” is repeated throughout the poem, emphasizing Clare’s quest for identity and his assertion of existence.
  2. Imagery: Clare uses vivid imagery, such as “the grass below—above the vaulted sky,” to paint a picture of his surroundings and his place within them.
  3. Contrast: The poem juxtaposes feelings of despair and hope, creating a poignant portrayal of human emotion and longing.
  4. Alliteration: Phrases like “vast vapours” add a rhythmic quality to the poem and enhance its melodic flow.


The poem follows a consistent rhyme scheme, which provides a structured framework to Clare’s chaotic emotions. The rhyme scheme can be described as “ABAB,” with each stanza adhering to this pattern. This regularity contrasts with the tumultuous feelings expressed, adding another layer of depth to the poem.

In conclusion, “I Am” is a powerful reflection on existence, identity, and the human condition. Through evocative imagery, thematic depth, and masterful use of literary devices, John Clare offers a poignant glimpse into his soul, making the poem universally relatable and deeply moving.

Stanza-by-Stanza Analysis

  1. First Stanza:
    • Clare begins with the declaration “I am,” asserting his existence. He describes himself as “yet what I am none cares or knows,” highlighting his feelings of invisibility and insignificance in the world. The mention of “the shipwreck of my life’s esteems” suggests past disappointments or failures that have left him feeling adrift.
  2. Second Stanza:
    • The poet delves deeper into his feelings of isolation, describing himself as an outcast in society. The “self-consumer of my woes” line indicates that he is trapped in a cycle of self-reflection and sorrow. The “vast vapours” that rise and vanish suggest fleeting moments of hope or happiness that quickly dissipate.
  3. Third Stanza:
    • Clare paints a vivid picture of his surroundings, mentioning the grass below and the sky above. This imagery places him in the middle, emphasizing his feelings of being trapped between the earth and the heavens. The mention of “Heaven’s ebon vault” suggests a sense of vastness and perhaps a feeling of being overwhelmed by the universe.
  4. Fourth Stanza:
    • The poet speaks of the future, where he hopes to find peace. The “scene that lures me to its brink” suggests that he’s on the edge of a significant decision or change. The stanza ends on a hopeful note, with Clare looking forward to a time “where to be at peace” and “feelings that decay.”

In each stanza, Clare masterfully weaves together his personal emotions with universal themes of existence, identity, and the search for meaning. The progression from despair to hope provides a narrative arc that resonates deeply with readers.