I am a self-consumer of my woes
that darken places where my light once shone;
their presence tends to keep me on my toes,
and in their absence I feel woebegone.
There is a lake named for this state, in Min-
nesota, where all people are above
the average, but I feel I’ll never win
such praise, except from somebody in love.
Inspired by an article in the May 26,2009 WSJ by William Amelia on the mad English nature poet, John Clare:
John Clare (1793-1864) is one of English poetry's most enduring hardship cases. He was born into a barely literate, impoverished peasant family of farm laborers in the village of Helpston, Northamptonshire. His random schooling, interrupted at harvest times, fully ended at age 12. He never learned proper spelling, punctuation - he called it 'pointing' - or grammar, which he felt was just 'a jumble of words classed under this name and that name.' He knew little or nothing of meter, but he sensed the metric 'beat, ' composing his poems to the steady click of the cottage spinning wheel…Clare's life was one of constant creative tension, and his poetic and physical labors were more than his mind and body could endure. Ill-health, neglect, poverty and, finally, madness sealed his fate. In July 1837, he was committed to Allen's Private Asylum, by authority of his wife; it was the first of his confinements. In July 1841, Clare walked away from the asylum and continued walking for four days and nearly a hundred miles to his village. But a few months later he was admitted to Northampton General Lunatic Asylum, where he would spend the remaining 23 years of his life and write more than a thousand poems. Jonathan Bate, in his biography of Clare (2003) suggests that Clare 'would probably be diagnosed as suffering from manic depression, technically bipolar disorder.' Clare wrote 'I Am, ' one of his most anthologized poems, from the asylum. It is haunting in its depiction of psychological alienation and bleak loneliness: 'I am - yet what I am, none cares or knows; / My friends forsake me like a memory lost; / I am the self-consumer of all my woes.'The first book Clare owned was James Thomson's 'Seasons, ' a long descriptive nature poem. Its influence is apparent as Clare's poems are field lessons in natural history. He described birds' nests - a lifelong interest - as tiny miracles, places of safety, of 'ownness, ' but also of vulnerability and risk. Nests were in many ways how he saw life, as well as the subject of his last poem, written just months before he died.
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