What is Life?

John Clare is called a nature poem by some critics. One of his famous poems is “What is Life?” where he writes about the meaning of life.

Images of the Ways of Life
Images of the Ways of Life


This is a long poem that gets started with a sense of living life. He asks the readers what is life. In a lifetime runs like a running glass and the sun also starts growing up so fast.

“A busy, bustling, still repeated dream;
Its length?—A minute’s pause, a moment’s thought;
And happiness?—A bubble on the stream,
That is the act of seizing shrinks to nought.”

Here, by these lines, the poet is trying to say that in life a dream of becoming something repeats, a moment gets a thought, and minutes receive pauses. Probably there is no happiness. So, according to the poet, there is no love and pleasing moments in life.

“What are vain Hopes?—The puffing gale of morn,
That of its charms divests the dewy lawn,
And robs each flow’ret of its gem,—and dies;
A cobweb hiding disappointment’s thorn,
Which stings more keenly through the thin disguise.”

Now in the next stanza, the poet further asks what is the vain hopes. Probably the puffing gale of morn in vain hopes. There is a cobweb that is hiding under the thorn.

It has strings that are keenly absorbed in the thin disguise. So, the main part of the poem is how we feel about life.

“And thou, O Trouble?—nothing can suppose,
(And sure the power of wisdom only knows,)
What need requireth thee:”

Now in the third stanza, further the poet asks what trouble will life make. Later the poet himself answered that nothing is supposed. The power of wisdom will be brought trouble.

Lyrics of What is Life by John Clare
Lyrics of What is Life by John Clare

It is as liberal as the bonny flowers. Here all the woes, pain, and disappointment come with the trouble. Thus, life gets filled with pain and trauma.

Now the poet has arrived at the main part which is death. He asks all the readers about the significance of death. It is dark, mysterious, and terrific and also has furious sounds. In death, a person will have long sleep of peace. And peace? This is also related to death.

“Then what is Life?—When stripp’d of its disguise,
A thing to be desir’d it cannot be;
Since everything that meets our foolish eyes
Gives proof sufficient of its vanity.”

Now in the last stanza, the poet tells that life is stipped with its disguise. In life, what a person will want for will never be given to him this is called life. Thus, John Clare asks for unachieved desires.

So, these are the trials of life that undergo and meet death. Life teaches of life and how it gives prizes. The happiness of a person ultimately comes when he received the call of the sky. There the poem ends.


The main motive of John Clare is to show the ways of life. In many ways, peace can be achieved but ultimate peace comes when the sky, heaven calls a person after death.

The poet has written about life by asking many questions to the readers, He asks at the start of stanzas, and later he gives the answers too.


Life is the main theme of this poem. Throughout the poem, John Clare asks questions and answers about life and its ways. Thus, we, the readers can get to know that there is the exact meaning of life.

Though life changes with time the factors of life remain the same. This is how the poet looks at life and lets his readers think of life.

Literary Devices

Literary devices are very important for a poem. Here, John Clare uses various literary devices. But before that comes the rhyming pattern which is “aabcbc”.

The whole poem though does not follow this pattern. Coming to the main point of the poem we will see relevant devices.

Syncope is a literary device that means writing a word using an apostrophe just like,

“flow’rst”, ” ‘neath”, “stripp’d”, etc.

Metaphor is also a device that is used to the state of another thing by using another phrase,

“And what is Life?—An hour-glass on the run,”

Here, the poet is trying to speak about the significance of time.

Then comes oxymoron as a literary device that refers to abstract words that are written to give an essence to the poetry like, “bounty flows”
Alliteration is another literary device that refers to the repetition of the same sound in a line like,

“charms divests the dewy lawn”

Here, the ‘d’ sound is repeated twice.

So, these are all important rhetorics of the poem.

Frequently Asked Questions

What is a life poem summary?
The Summary of the poem is death where all will be died and that would be peace.
What is the central idea of the poem have you ever seen?
The central idea of the poem is life is a lesson that will teach all.
What message is the poet trying to give us in the poem life?
John Clare’s message to his readers would be to live life in its best ways so that death can make no change.