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I Am

I Am

by John Clare

Intangible Stuff

Symbol Analysis

There's a lot of stuff in this poem that you just can't grasp (we mean physically, not mentally). Specifically, we mean immaterial things are things like shadows (5), vapours (6), nothingness (7), and dreams (8) that don't have any real, physical existence. They are everywhere in "I Am," and they function as symbols both of how the speaker is being treated (like vapor, like he's nothing) and of death. Shadows, nothingness? Sounds like death to us.

  • Line 2: A memory is real, but it has no physical existence. The simile comparing the speaker to a memory lost tells us that his friends are treating him like he's not even real!
  • Line 4: Woes can't really rise and vanish so this is an example of personification. The woes seem mysterious or ghostly, although they are very real to the speaker. They appear and then disappear just as suddenly, which makes us question their existence.
  • Line 5: We get another simile, this time comparing the speaker's woes to shadows. This comparison makes the shadows seem more real. It gives us an idea of how the speaker perceives them. It also makes us think he's kind of nuts. Woes like shadows in love's frenzied stifled throes? Pretty vivid, chief! 
  • Lines 6-7: We should just call this the simile stanza because we get another one here. The speaker says he is, or lives, "like vapours tost / Into the nothingness of scorn and noise." The speaker is like a vapor, which means he's almost invisible (to his friends, we presume). This vapor is very eerie and may be read as a symbol of death. 
  • Line 9: The speaker is stuck somewhere where there is "neither sense of life or joys." In short, there is nothing at all. 
  • Lines 13-15: The speaker longs for a place where women have never smiled and men have never walked. We can't help thinking that Clare doesn't have any "real," physical place in mind. Sure, he seems to be talking about Heaven, but isn't that more a spiritual deal, like a state of mind as opposed to any actual place?

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