I Am

I Am (2014)
For SATB A Cappella Choir
Approximate duration: 5 minutes

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John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet, the son of a farm labourer, who came to be known for his celebratory representations of the English countryside and his lamentation of its disruption. His poetry underwent a major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is often now considered to be among the most important 19th-century poets. His biographer Jonathan Bate states that Clare was “the greatest labouring-class poet that England has ever produced. No one has ever written more powerfully of nature, of a rural childhood, and of the alienated and unstable self”.

Clare, fondly called “The Northamptonshire Peasant Poet” while living and on his tombstone, was constantly torn between the two worlds of literary London and his often illiterate neighbours; between the need to write poetry and the need for money to feed and clothe his children. His health began to suffer, and he had bouts of severe depression, which became worse after his sixth child was born in 1830 and as his poetry sold less well.

Clare eventually was institutionalized and spent the majority of his later years in an asylum. It is in this setting that he wrote what has become his most famous poem, “I Am”. In setting “I Am”, I attempted to musically capture the poet’s sense of despair and alienation, as well as his hope and longing.

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