Thursday, January 29, 2015

A beautiful poem

I am not a natural reader of poems.  I have always found that I need to hear somebody reading them to me before I really understand their rhythm.  But I have just been introduced by a poetry-writing friend to a poem by John Clare (1793-1864), one line of which has haunted me ever since.  It is the third line of the poem, and I have decided that it will be good to exercise my brain by trying to learn the whole, quite short poem.

The line is from a poem called simply “I am”, and here are its first three lines, written down, to my delight already, from memory:

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"

(I got a few words wrong!)

I don’t know why these lines swirl away in my mind as much as they do.  I suppose that this is one of the secrets of good poetry.  Its rhythms and its juxtapositions of oddly-assorted words lead us away from the everyday into some distant realm of the spirit. "I am the self-consumer of my woes" speaks to me in a way I don’t really understand, but simply feel.

He was completely self-taught, working as a labourer in the fields to support his family, and then unhappily spent the last years of his life consigned to an asylum.  I have just discovered that “I am” was the last poem he wrote.  He must indeed have felt that his friends had forsaken him “like a memory lost”, so that he had to become “the self-consumer of his woes”. 

Reading about his life, and its unhappy ending, I can at last begin to understand the meaning of these lines

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