"I Am" (or "Lines: I Am")[1] is a poem written by English poet John Clare in late 1844 or 1845 and published in 1848. It was composed when Clare was in the Northampton General Lunatic Asylum[2] (commonly Northampton County Asylum, and later renamed St Andrew's Hospital), isolated by his mental illness from his family and friends.

Background and structureEdit

This poem, written in three stanzas of regular iambic pentameter and an "ababab" rhyme scheme in the first stanza and an "cdcdee" scheme for the second stanza and an"fgfghh" for the third stanza, details Clare's finding of a sanctuary from the travails of his life in the asylum by reasserting his individuality in life[3] and love of the beauty of the natural world in which he will find peace in death. An irony of Clare writing a poem declaring "I am" is that at times during his years in asylums he believed he was Lord Byron and Shakespeare, even re-editing Byron's poems at one point.

The second stanza examines the alienation he feels from his family and friends due to his mental condition "And e'en the dearest - that I loved the best - / Are strange - nay, rather stranger than the rest". The final stanza adopts religious imagery, calling on God, recalling the garden of Eden and longing for the "vaulted sky", a reference to a cathedral-like heaven. It appears to both hope for a spiritual afterlife and accept the physical reality of peaceful repose in his beloved earth.

The house steward of the asylum, W. F. Knight, who worked there from April 1845 to the end of January 1850, transcribed the poem for Clare. The poem was first published on 1 January 1848 in the Bedford Times,[1] or per other sources in the Annual Report of the Medical Superintendent of Saint Andrews for 1864, and later appeared with slightly altered text in Life of John Clare, the biography of the poet by Frederick Martin.[4] The poem is known as Clare's "last lines"[4] and is his most famous.[5]

The poem's title is used for a 2003 collection of Clare's poetry, I Am: The Selected Poetry of John Clare, edited by his biographer Jonathan Bate,[6] and it had previously been included in the 1992 Columbia University Press anthology, The Top 500 Poems.[7]

The poem is not to be confused with a sonnet also written by Clare and also entitled "I Am" (or "I Only Know I Am", or "Sonnet: I Am").[1] The latter may, however, "be seen as a complementary piece".[8]

In popular cultureEdit

The poem is read by Rory Kinnear in season two, episode "Above the Vaulted Sky" of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful and also in the film Black Pond.[citation needed]

The poem also appears in Alan Moore's epic, Jerusalem.[citation needed]


  1. ^ a b c John Derbyshire. "I Am". John Derbyshire. Archived from the original on 25 June 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2007.
  2. ^ Andrew Roberts. "Mental Health History (Hospitals)". Middlesex University. Archived from the original on 29 November 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2007. Materials for the author's thesis.
  3. ^ Miller, Eric (21 March 2002). "Literary Encyclopedia: John Clare". The Literary Encyclopedia. The Literary Dictionary Company. Retrieved 20 December 2007.
  4. ^ a b "John Clare (1793-1864): I Am!". Representative Poetry Online. University of Toronto Library. Archived from the original on 6 December 2007. Retrieved 19 December 2007.
  5. ^ Terrence Rafferty (February 15, 2004). "Nature Boy". The New York Times. Retrieved 19 December 2007.
  6. ^ John Clare (2003). I Am: The Selected Poetry of John Clare. Jonathan Bate. Farrar, Straus and Giroux. ISBN 0-374-52869-1.
  7. ^ William Harmon (1992). The Top 500 Poems. Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-08028-X.
  8. ^ Christopher Howse (2004). Comfort. Continuum International Publishing Group. ISBN 0-8264-7641-4. [first lines] I feel I am, I only know I am / And plod upon the earth as dull and void

External linksEdit