A poem that seems to descibe what it is like to begin to suffer from dementia

I was astounded to find that my husband’s experience of succumbing to dementia was beautifully expressed by someone who lived in the same area where John was born – Peterborough and by all accounts, could have succumbed to the same disease. I looked at the poem by John Clare called ‘I am’ which I expected to be a poem that would comment on the enigmatic nature of existence.

While his poem did, indeed, do this, I couldn’t help feeling that he was expressing exactly the same emotions and thoughts my husband could tell me about before he became too seriously ill. I can still sense the chill I felt when my husband said that it felt like his brain was ‘scrambled’.

If you’ve the time and inclination, you might like to read my description of what I think the poet is saying. This is quite different to the usual analyses, I believe.

(You’ll find the poem at (http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/i-am/ accessed 04/01/2013)

I believe John Clare may have been on the edge of his illness and says:

‘I exist. Yet, even though I know I am here, and I am part of the world and people know I exist, no one wants to know or cares that I am here.’

His friends have left him; he feels he cannot enjoy the friendship he once had with them. He uses a simile to liken the loss of his friends to a memory, something very distant that happened long ago and is lost to his and their consciousness. He could also be referring to his own condition in which he is starting to lose his memory. The memories of the times he once had with his close friends are now distant or even lost to him.

He is saying his troubles are self-contained, only within his own thoughts. Only he really knows what he is suffering. His problems ‘eat him up’ and no one else could really understand what it is like to experience his suffering.  

At times his problems greatly increase or disappear into the ether of existence where nothing is known, where they completely disappear into a place which is kept by a ‘Host’ or God who holds everything that is or has been known so that the poet’s distressed thoughts sink into ‘oblivion’; they are no longer a significant part of him or the whole scheme of things.

He uses a simile to liken the effect loss of his memories of previous heightened experiences (especially those of love) to mere shadows in the world and within in his own memory; these memories are doomed to come to inevitable finality in death, which brings about the loss and obliteration of a person and all that they have held dear.

He uses the conjunction ‘and’ and the word ‘yet’ to emphasize that even with all of these worries, he does exist, he knows he exists and thus it matters. He knows he is alive although living with dark memories that are thrown about within his troubled mind.

In his difficult life that has been full of the derision and fuss of others

In his life as it is, full of jumbled, disturbing thoughts he does not really feel alive or appreciates the joy he may have done once.

His hopes, desires and achievements have fallen to ‘wrack and ruin’ indicated by the metaphor ‘shipwreck’

Even the people who have been those he has loved the most,

even they seem different, not like they were, even more changed than everyone and everything else

He wishes he could go to places no one has ever been to before, where there is none of the noise and worry of that has come upon him.

He wants to be where he doesn’t have to feel or remember the impact of a woman and her emotions and the effect she has or had on his feelings.

He wants to finish it all, to go home and return to where he came from to be with God.

He is so tired, he wants to rest, to sleep as soundly as he did when only an innocent child.

He wants his worries to cease. He wants to be no trouble to anyone else, nor suffer from the unhappy anxiety that he is experiencing now. He wants to rest, and be still and unaffected by his problematic mind.

He wants to lie down on green fields or ‘grass’ leading us to imagine him finally at rest on the ‘green pastures’ from the 23rd psalm – pastures where he can metaphorically rest in the arms of a caring God. Such pastures are more important and on a higher plane than the sky itself. The ‘grass’ could also refer to his grave. He wishes to die and be free of all his difficulties.


What do you think?


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One Response to “A poem that seems to descibe what it is like to begin to suffer from dementia”

  1. M T McGuire Says:

    That’s heart felt and very sad.

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