“I Am”: A sense of self

Image courtesy of Forbes.com
Image courtesy of Forbes.com

In 1841 a little-known English poet escaped an asylum and wandered back to his childhood home in the farmland of Northamtonshire, convinced that he was married to a woman who had died three years earlier.

The poet, John Clare, said that separation from his childhood home–its fields, cottages, and the small taverns where he worked–had made him increasingly alienated from his own self. His later poems reflect his fixation. In one he claims that he was once Shelly and Lord Byron. In his most famous one, “I Am,” he reflects on his isolation:

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 shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes

And yet I am, and live—like vapours tossed.

Isolated and unknown, Clare clings to the few activities, memories, and passions that adhere to his fragmented self. This raises an important question: Who is this “I Am” Clare speaks of, separated from his roots? Who is an I? What is a self?

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Dredging the self

This Monday, I dug up a crate of my old writing from my parent’s cellar. Journals,

Ah yes, my high school self...
Ah yes, my high school self…

poems, old short stories, math notebooks lined with marginal musings. Anything I could find. I fished love letters from my closet and photographs from my mothers’ desk, piling it all up like autumn leaves on my bedroom floor.

For a few days, I dug trough the stack.

OK, so “stack” may be a little exaggerated. But it’s a significant pile. I’m reread it all to revisit those hazy landscapes of my not-too-distant childhood, verifying events and reviving old memories, all in a pointed search of self.

I’m writing a memoir for my Honor’s project. I know I could half-ass most of it. But I’d get nothing from that besides reams of pleasant-sounding pulp. I don’t want that.

I’m after my own self, after all.

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