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I Am

I Am

by John Clare

Stanza 2 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 7-8

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,—
Into the living sea of waking dreams,

  • Aha! Here the speaker uses anaphora (repeating the same beginning phrases of both lines) to tell us he's like vapours tost "into the nothingness of scorn and noise" and "into the living sea of waking dreams."
  • That makes perfect, perfect sense, doesn't it? NOT!
  • On the one hand, it sure sounds like people are treating the speaker with a lot of "scorn." But they're also treating him with "noise," which is probably the speaker's way of saying that everything people are saying about him is just a bunch of hot air. 
  • As for that bit about living sea of waking dreams, we sure love it, but sheesh it's a tricky little bugger!
  • The "waking dreams" part clearly describes the way the speaker experience his isolation, loneliness, etc. Maybe it's so strange to him that it seems like a waking dream.
  • On the other hand, perhaps life is starting to look like a "living sea of waking dreams" because the speaker is starting to lose it mentally. Reality doesn't seem "real" anymore.
  • We know that Clare had some very serious psychological problems—like…insanity—and so it wouldn't be too absurd to think this bit about waking dreams is an attempt to describe it.
  • This would also give us another way to read that bit about "noise." Somebody whose brain is going might not be able to understand language. They might hear words and think it's just "noise."
  • The reason he calls it a "living sea" is, again, to emphasize that he is very much a part of an organic or "living" world. It's a roundabout way of saying "Hey guys I'm alive!"
  • In fact, he would probably scream out the words just like the guy does in this rocking tune from the German metal band Helloween.
  • Did you see how a sentence that started in line 6 wasn't completed until line 7? Oh, yeah. Well that's called enjambment. It brings us running into this stanza to see how line 6 winds up—kind of like a poetic cliffhanger.
  • Now that we've been satisfied…onward!

Lines 9-10

Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life's esteems;

  • Just when we thought things couldn't get any worse, they get worse! The speaker tells us more about this "living sea of waking dreams."
  • Even though it's a "living sea," death and decay are everywhere. There is no "sense of life or joys," and all that remains is the "vast shipwreck" of his "life's esteems." It sounds terrible.
  • "Life's esteems" means something like "things I've esteemed throughout my life." In other words, everything that he once valued or enjoyed is now a big huge mess. A shipwreck, like this.
  • The speaker is clearly a very unhappy man. It seems like his whole life has been destroyed; everything he's loved and esteemed is gone. There is no more joy.
  • We hate it to say it, but all this stuff about sadness and death is phrased really beautifully. Well that's kind of ironic, isn't it? Don't ya think?
  • Yes indeed it is! It's ironic, because this is a sad poem, and we don't usually associate death and beauty. Well, most of us don't. Apparently, though, sadness and death have inspired the speaker to write some really good stuff, so we guess that's a good thing. 
  • Hmm. We wonder if this comes up again a little later on… (Hint: it just might!)

Lines 11-12

Even the dearest, that I love the best
Are strange—nay, rather stranger than the rest.

  • We're not out of the woods yet folks. There's more depressing news to report. The speaker's dearest companions, those that he loves the best—well, they're strange too! In fact, they're stranger than the rest.
  • The speaker begins to change his focus here. Whereas in the preceding lines he couldn't resist talking about shipwrecks and death, here he simply says that those he loves the best now seem "strange."
  • Then again, when a person starts to become really different, their old self sort of dies away, so in a way all this business about "stranger than the rest" still reflects an obsession with death.
  • The real confusion here is the question of who's at fault. Are the speaker's closest companions really acting differently towards him?
  • Or is it all in his head? It is possible, given what we've already read, that the speaker is describing a mental breakdown, though he might not be totally aware of it.
  • This is all painfully, painfully sad. 
  • Let's take our mind off of all this for a minute and think about something happy, like this stanza's rhyme scheme!
  • It is slightly different than the first stanza and is: ABABCC. And look! How neat, there's a couplet here! Yay! For more on that stuff, check out "Form and Meter."

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