John Clare spent thirty of his seventy years in an asylum, leaving his family destitute. It also left him cut off from those whom he loved, abandoned, alone. The line below, "And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest" is wrenching. It points to the frightened realization that the people who had been dearest to him have now become strangers, even stranger to him than these strange lunatics (he calls them shadows) with whom he is incarcerated.
"I Am" underlines much of what I meant to express in my posts about prisons/asylums/nursing homes. The next two poems are included just because they are lovely! He wrote these all while living in Northampton County Asylum.
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 shades in love and death's oblivion lost'
And yet I am, and live with shadows tost.
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life nor joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;
And e'en the dearest--that I loved the best--
Are strange--nay, rather stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod;
A place where woman never smiled or wept;
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept:
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie;
The grass below--above the vaulted sky.
The fir trees taper into twigs and wear
The rich blue green of summer all the year,
Softening the roughest tempest almost calm
And offering shelter even still and warm
To the small path that towels underneath,
Where loudest winds--almost as summer's breath--
Scarce fan the weed that lingers green below,
When others out of doors are lost in frost and snow.
And sweet the music trembles on the ear
As the wind suthers through each tiny spear,
Makeshifts for leaves; and yet, so rich they show,
Winter is almost summer where they grow.
When once the sun sinks in the west,
And dew-drops pearl the evening's breast,
Almost as pale as moonbeams are,
Or its companionable star,
The evening primrose opes anew
Its delicate blossoms to the dew;
And, shunning-hermit of the light,
Wastes its fair bloom upon the night,
Who, blindfold to its fond caresses,
Knows not the beauty she possesses.
Thus it blooms on till night is by
And day looks out with open eye,
Abashed at the gaze it cannot shun,
It faints and withers, and is done.