“Sonnet [I am]” by John Clare: Freedom and Agency, Not Suicide

In class, we briefly discussed how John Clare’s “I Am” poem can be read as the speaker wishing that he were dead, but that it did not truly seem like it due to a reference to being between the sky and the grass. Because “Sonnet [I am]” has a lot of the same tone and similarity in name (also could have been a previous draft of “I Am”), I went back to “Sonnet [I am]” and think I have a better grasp on the suicide question.

I admit that even after reading the poem a few times, I still felt like the speaker was suicidal in “Sonnet [I am]” like in “I Am.” After reading it some more and looking at the lines very carefully, I think that it is not so much suicidal idealization as it is the yearning for freedom. For instance, the speaker says:

“A spirit that could travel o’ver the space

Of earth and heaven,—like a thought sublime,

Tracing creation, like my maker, free,—

A soul unshackled—like eternity” (ll. 9-12)

Now, yes, “spirit” could be a reference to the speaker being dead and having the ability to go wherever (because, you know, he’s dead and all; no boundaries or limitations), but I think the important parallel to remember is that the speaker says “like my maker.” Assuming that the speaker is referencing God, the implication can be that the speaker was to be free like God. God has the freedom and agency to do whatever He wants; no one can make him do anything or keep him anywhere. With this idea of freedom and agency in mind, the speaker’s true desire is seen: instead of being stuck in “Earth’s prison,” he wants to be have the ability to go and do what he wants (ll. 3). He does not necessarily want to commit suicide. It was just the word usage of “spirit” and “soul” with the mention of God that a person could draw the conclusion that the speaker means that death would be the solution.

(Word count: 342)