John Clare’s “I Am”

When I read the title of John Clare’s “I Am”, the first thing that I thought of was Neil Diamond’s song with a similar title, “I Am…I Said”. I gave the song a relisten and thought that it had a few pretty interesting similarities to Clare’s poem.

First, as it says in the Norton Anthology, Clare spent much of his later life in an asylum. I read more about this on Wikipedia and, apparently, Clare struggled with mental health issues throughout his life, eventually willingly going to this asylum when he could no longer support his family.

I also read a bit about the composition of “I Am…I Said”, and apparently Neil Diamond wrote this about many of the thoughts/feelings he had while undergoing therapy. Though I have no doubt that an asylum in the 1840s must have been a very different experience than modern therapy, it’s interesting that both of these works that begin with the phrase “I Am” were written during periods of, most likely, intense introspection.

In “I Am…I Said”, Diamond sings, “I’m lost between two shores. L.A.’s fine, but it ain’t home. New York’s home, but it ain’t mine no more.” I thought this line was very similar to the stanza below. Both writers touch on the theme of wanting to return home not in the sense of a physical location but in the sense of the feelings and experiences they had as children. I can imagine that Clare in particular felt strongly about his lines, given his living in an asylum.

I long for scenes where man hath 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. (13-18)

Diamond also sings, “‘I am’… I said, to no one there. And no one heard at all, not even the chair.” Clare also touches on this theme of feeling completely alone when he writes, “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;—” (1-3). It’s interesting to see two artists from such different times talk about what it means to try to figure out who you are and what your purpose is, especially in the face of mental health issues and fame.

Hemans and Wordsworth

Realized I wrote and then forgot to put up my post from last week. Hope it’s alright that I’m posting it now!

It was interesting to think about how Hemans depicts and thinks about immortality and longevity in her poetry, especially in “Properzia Rossi”, since these are topics that many of the poets we’ve covered have talked about. These were some of my favorite lines from her poem in relation to immortality:

Therefore my brief aspirations from the chain,

Are ever but some wild fitful song,

Rising triumphantly, to die ere long

In dirge like-echoes. (75-8)

Hemans discusses longevity and an artist’s fame in the context of her womanhood. She questions the cost of fame, wondering what she has had to give up in order to succeed as a poet, especially since most of society at her time believed it impossible for a woman to create meaningful art, much less lead a family or raise children at the same time.

Seemingly, Wordsworth and Hemans discuss similar topics in their poetry. They lament over the fact that they are seemingly never completely happy, they question whether they will live on after they die through their writing, etc. However, male poets such as Wordsworth write about how they can never guarantee that they will be remembered; they know that their poetry is good, but they question whether anything is immortal. On the other hand, Hemans, while also knowing that her poetry is well-crafted, questions whether the cost of being a female poet in a man’s world will be worth it since she cannot even guarantee that her work will last. Wordsworth is sometimes saddened by immortality because there is no guarantee of it; Hemans is sad about immortality because even if she achieves it, she questions whether it will have been worth it.

Barbauld and Civilization

Thy hand has planted and thy spirit fills:

Soon as their gradual progress shall impart

The finer sense of morals and art,

Thy stores of knowledge the new states shall know… (84-87)

I found these lines particularly interesting because they reminded me of many other poems that we have read this semester in their focus on writing as something that improves people’s lives. One example is Wordsworth’s meditations on the nature of writing and its relation to immortality. But Barbauld treats writing as an agent of civilized society; she writes that British literature will have a powerful and positive influence on developing civilizations, such as America. There are probably many other British writers who, even if inadvertently, spread this message.

This idea of literature as a mark of civilization seems to connect to the idea of a “canon” that we spoke about in class. As I was thinking about Barbauld, Charles W. Chesnutt came to my mind, who we read in 19th Century American Literature; I remember discussing how he often tried to incorporate aspects of speech into his writing that were seen as informal but resonated more with his experiences and with real life in general. It seems to me that there are so many examples of literature excluded from the canon because they didn’t fit with what was considered “proper” for the time period. Or perhaps there wasn’t a receptive audience for the work when it was written.

This poem is also a great example of what we discussed in class, that Barbauld is trying to establish herself within a man’s world. This is extremely obvious when she praises exclusively male authors, stating, “And Milton’s tones the raptured ear entrall” (95). This seems such a fine line to walk and I think the fact that Barbauld’s writing career ended the way that it did perhaps speaks to the fact that success on the part of a woman sometimes comes at a cost when it must be tailored for a male audience/patriarchal society.

Keats and Charles Brown

I went through some of Keats’ other poems in The Norton Anthology and found one titled “This living hand, now warm and capable”, which I thought was a very passionate and haunting poem (it’s on page 1013).

In the footnote, the editor notes that this short poem might have eventually come to be a part of the satire that Keats was writing when he died. This satire was called The Jealousies. In researching this satire, I learned a bit about a man who was one of Keats’ closest friends during his lifetime: Charles Armitage Brown. (We already saw his name when reading Keats’ letters, as Keats’ last letter ever written was to him.) Brown advised Keats many times and helped him a great deal while he was unwell toward the end of his life (according to the Wikipedia article on Brown). He also wrote a memoir about Keats’ life and collaborated with him on a play that wasn’t actually staged until after both of them had passed. It was interesting to learn a bit more about one of Keats’ friends, though I know we have also talked about a number of other people in his life, including Fanny Brawne.

I also found a quote about Brown and Keats from this website (

“Excellent friend as Brown was to Keats, he was not the most judicious adviser in matters of literature, and the attempt made in the [The Jealousies] to mingle with the strain of fairy fancy a strain of worldly flippancy and satire was one essentially alien to Keats’s nature.”

I think that this was a funny quote in how it depicted Keats’ attempts to write this satire, but it also emphasized Keats’ young age during his career and how he was still improving his abilities and honing his craft, to a certain degree. It seems that Keats’ attempt to write this satire is a testament to the breadth that Keats aspired to in his work; he did not limit himself to a certain genre. I think Brown’s role in Keats’ life as an advisor made me consider what poetry Keats might have written if he had lived for longer, which we discussed a bit last class (the idea of genius and the people who possess it often having short lives).

“On Seeing the Elgin Marbles”

I did a little extra research about other poets who wrote about the Elgin Marbles. Herman Melville wrote a poem about being amazed by them. Also, it turns out that Lord Byron was very opposed to the bringing of these friezes to Britain; another poet named Roger Casement agreed, and I found this poem of his (titled “Verses”):

Give back the Elgin marbles; let them lie

Unsullied, pure beneath an Attic sky.

The smoky fingers of our northern clime

More ruin work than all the ancient time.

How oft the roar of the Piraen sea

Through column’d hall and dusky temple stealing

Hath struck these marble ears, that now must flee

The whirling hum of London, noonward reeling.


Ah! let them hear again the sounds that float

Around Athene’s shrine on morning’s breeze,—

The lowing ox, the bell of climbing goat

And drowsy drone of far Hymettus’ bees.

Give back the marbles; let them vigil keep

Where art still lies, o’er Pheidias’ tomb, asleep.

As I read on Wikipedia, Roger Casement was an Irish Revolutionary who attempted to help in the rise against the British; he also investigated imperial abuse of power in the Congo Free State. He was executed by the British during World War I when he tried to get the Germans to help the Irish. It was interesting to me that Casement chose this topic to write about, as he was actually not in Ireland when he wrote these verses. I can imagine that the stealing of the Elgin Marbles must have seemed like another abuse of power in the long history of British imperialism; Casement had felt the effects of this himself, which must be why he went out of his way to address the issue.

I believe that a number of lines in “On Seeing the Elgin Marbles” by Keats can also be interpreted as mourning the fact that the British stole these friezes from the Parthenon. Two lines in particular that stood out to me as examples of this are, “My spirit is too weak—mortality / Weighs heavily on me like unwilling sleep…” (1-2). These lines convey Keats’ amazement at the great Marbles that he is seeing. They could also be interpreted as making Keats consider the fact that if these marbles can be moved and stolen after standing as a piece of art in one place for over two thousand years, is that not a misuse of power? Humans are mortal, and yet they handle these practically immortal pieces of art as if their history and location do not matter.

“Mont Blanc”

I found two aspects of Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” really interesting. First, I thought that the use of the word ‘daedal’ in the poem was significant. This word is defined as “intricately formed” in the footnotes, but I looked it up in the OED and it can also be used (and was used at the time Shelley wrote) to refer to things that were maze-like or cunningly invented. It’s probably safe to assume that Shelley was quite careful about his word choice, and I wonder whether he meant to imply that the Earth is like the labyrinth that the Daedalus of Greek mythology built. The lines that convinced me of this were, “All things that move and breathe with toil and sound / Are born and die; revolve, susbside and swell” (94-5). These lines seem to paint the Earth/life in general almost as a trap or an inescapable thing; people are born and die and this is a part of human nature that, obviously, no one can control. 

Second, I thought it was interesting to consider this poem in contrast to the portion of “The 1805 Prelude” wherein Wordsworth describes his experience with the Alps. One line, in particular, of “Mont Blanc” struck me; Shelley writes, “And this, the naked countenance of earth, / On which I gaze, even these primaeval mountains / Teach the adverting mind” (98-100). Shelley is obviously awestruck by the Alps, stating that simply seeing them will teach a person something about the beauty of nature and the nature of life and death. In “The 1805 Prelude”, Wordsworth describes his feelings after seeing the Alps in this way: “Yet still in me, mingling with these delights, / Was something of stern mood, an under-thirst / Of vigour, never utterly asleep” (488-90). The fact that Shelley states that any person with an observant mind will learn something from even viewing the Alps seems to reflect poorly on Wordsworth. Wordsworth sees Mount Blanc and, to be fair, is amazed by the sight; but he is also left with a sense of longing for something more. I think that Wordsworth’s poem is a bit more realistic in relation to the human experience. As we discussed in class, Wordsworth didn’t realize that he had already crossed the Alps and was disappointed that he didn’t have some sort of cinematic moment upon reaching the top. Not everything can live up to our expectations. Often, when we’ve built something up in our minds to an extreme degree, we might not experience it as we think that we should. On the other hand, Shelley’s “Mont Blanc” is similar to a lot of Wordsworth’s poetry about his boyhood in nature and how he learned many lessons from his natural surroundings.

“The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”

I really enjoyed “The Lime-Tree Bower My Prison”. This poem fluctuated from really genuine and insightful moments to lines that seemed like Coleridge complaining about not being able to accompany his friends.

Some lines that stood out to me from the first passage were when Coleridge says, “I have lost / Beauties and feelings, such as would have been / Most sweet to my remembrance even when age / Had dimmed mine eyes to blindness!” (2-5) He also refers to his friends as people “whom I never more may meet again” (6). These sentiments (the fear of missing out on a really memorable experience and fearing that you might never see certain people again) completely encapsulate the modern concept of FOMO (fear of missing out). 

The footnote that noted how the friend, Charles, who Coleridge goes on and on about in the poem, was not an especially big fan of nature (and actually preferred the city) made me laugh. I think that this represents how people get really caught up in their own heads when they feel left out; Coleridge loves nature and wants to be out there, therefore, so does Charles.

But in the end, Coleridge is actually quite insightful, saying, “A delight / Comes sudden on my heart, and I am glad / As I myself were out there!” This poem is a good representation of the human thought process: Coleridge goes from dramatic and worried about missing out on time with his friends to realizing that even as he sits alone, he can take happiness from his surroundings and from his memories of past experiences.

I also thought a great deal about what the last line of the poem means. Coleridge writes, “No sound is dissonant which tells of Life.” He is saying to Charles (and perhaps even more to himself) that everything that happens to us has the ability to serve some purpose. Now that he has missed out on spending time with his friends, Coleridge will be more grateful when he is next able to do so.

The Cliff in “The 1805 Prelude”

I thought that lines 408-425 in the first book of “The 1805 Prelude” were interesting because they truly captured the moment when a young person realizes that the world is much bigger than they had previously understood, and therefore much more difficult to comprehend than they had once believed. I interpreted this passage as the cliff being a metaphor for this realization. This is why the narrator is so afraid when the cliff looms over him, and why he feels that the cliff “…like a living thing / Strode after me…” (411-2). The narrator feeling that the cliff is following him is representative of the fact that a young person who realizes their own insignificance is forever changed. 

I enjoyed the way that Wordsworth portrayed this realization as a very sudden one, when he states, “…the huge cliff / Rose up between me and the stars…” (409-10). Wordsworth does an excellent job in his poetry of encompassing all aspects of what it means to discover or learn things as a young person. In many of his other poems, he writes about the natural world and how it brings joy and happiness to him in his adulthood because he can remember his childhood spent outdoors. I feel that this poem portrayed another very lifelike sentiment. Often, the natural world teaches us lessons about human nature, life, death, and our own place in the world; these lessons are not always as exciting or exhilarating as Wordsworth paints them as, they can sometimes be quite frightening.

One aspect of the poem that I found particularly significant was the way that Wordsworth describes the narrator’s feelings after he witnesses this great cliff. I had a bit of a hard time understanding these lines at first. He writes, “…In my thoughts / There was a darkness—call it solitude / Or blank desertion—no familiar shapes…” (420-2). I interpreted this as the narrator’s mind being completely blank or, at least, the narrator not knowing what to think. He has been scared by how large the cliff was, and how insignificant he felt beside it. The narrator has realized that he is not as important as he once thought, and this has caused him to reevaluate much of what he once believed, leaving his mind blank.

The “Lucy” Poems and Ovid’s Metamorphoses

One aspect of the “Lucy” poems that I found particularly interesting was that the poems struck me as very different from other poems about a loved one who has passed. As I read these poems, I thought about poems that I have read in other classes on this topic. Obituaries also came to my mind, as these works usually focus on what the person did during their life, highlighting things that were particularly important to them or struck their surviving family as large parts of their personality. 

I think that what made this poem feel different is that, especially in “Three years she grew”, Lucy is portrayed as almost non-human. What I mean by this is that when I was reading this poem, I thought of Greek and Roman myths that I have read in the past; in particular, The Metamorphoses. Ovid’s work moves through myths and stories, many of them focusing on how something or someone was created or came to life, and how they, later, perished. Ovid’s Metamorphoses is full of natural comparisons, the stories of nymphs and other minor gods/goddesses who live among nature, and generally prominently features the natural world. A few lines, in particular, struck me as similar to Ovid’s descriptions, such as when Wordsworth writes, “She shall be sportive as the fawn” (Three years she grew 13). Another few lines in “Three years she grew” definitely made me believe that Wordsworth was attempting to paint Lucy in a goddess-like light. He writes, “The Girl, in rock and plain, / In earth and heaven, in glade and bower, / Shall feel an overseeing power / To kindle or restrain” (9-12). To me, this made it sound as though Lucy had a great deal of power over the natural world.

I felt that Wordsworth was trying to portray Lucy as someone who had such a brief and overwhelming presence in the narrator’s life and great power over his emotions, just as she had over the natural world. The lives of many women in Ovid’s Metamorphoses are often portrayed as brief and full of ups and downs. I felt that Wordsworth did this with Lucy as well; it is easy to understand, then, why the narrator is so struck by her death. 

Blake and Milton

I thought that one of the most interesting sections of “The Marriage of Heaven and Hell” was when William Blake discussed Paradise Lost. I took Paradise Lost last semester, so a lot of what we learned is still pretty fresh in my mind!

First, I thought that the quote, “Those who restrain desire, do so because theirs is weak enough to be restrained; and the restrainer or reason usurps its place & governs the unwilling” was very interesting. Last semester, we discussed a great deal about what it was Milton wrote about free will. In Paradise Lost, Milton writes that God has given people free will because there would be no point in their obeying God if there was no other way they could behave. This is why Satan’s fall from Heaven is so significant: he has the ability to stay loyal to God, even though God knew that he would not. The implication that those who restrain their own desires are actually not strong, but simply have weak desires, seems to go against everything that Milton writes. Milton, I think, would state that those who are able to remain loyal to God, despite their desires, are perhaps the strongest people. However, I do understand that perhaps this is intentional on the part of Blake. It seems that he wishes to argue that there are certain human desires that it is unreasonable to expect all people to control completely. 

Next, I found the quote, “…the Devil’s account is, that the Messiah fell, & formed a heaven of what he stole from the Abyss” to also be quite interesting. A big theme in Paradise Lost is Satan realizing that his mindset matters more than his physical location. In particular, Satan, after he betrays God, visits Eden and realizes that Hell is not a place. Rather, it is a mindset that he brings with him everywhere, since he has fallen and feels that there is no way for him to repent. It was interesting to think of Satan and the other fallen angels as making the best of their own situation and making a Heaven out of Hell.

I thought that the note at the end of this was pretty significant since it seems to give us a pretty good idea of what Blake thought of Milton! Blake writes, “The reason Milton wrote in fetters when he wrote of Angels & God, and at liberty when of Devils & Hell, is because he was a true Poet and of the Devil’s party without knowing it.” I did a little research on this phrase, since I remembered reading about it last year but didn’t remember all the specifics on it, and it seems to me that Blake thought this about Milton since Milton portrays Satan as the protagonist and a character worthy of pity in Paradise Lost.