I Am

I wrote this, like “The Message of the Wind“, for the Nicola Dando Choral Composition Prize. The judges didn’t choose it but I still like it.

The poem, written by John Clare, seems to have a few different versions of the fifth line in the first stanza. I set the one that I was given for the competition: “Like shades in love and death’s oblivion lost”, which rhymes with the final line of the poem; but other versions include “Like shadows in love’s frenzied stifled throes” or “Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost”; I don’t know the provenance of these different versions, but the version I was given does better justice to the words, given the metre, than the others. The last line of that stanza has some variations too.

Here’s the full text as I set it:

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 shades in love and death’s oblivion lost
And yet I am, and live with shadows tost.

Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dreams,
Where there is neither sense of life or joys,
But the vast shipwreck of my life’s esteems;
Even the dearest that I loved the best
Are strange—nay, rather, stranger than the rest.

I long for scenes where man hath never trod
A place where woman never smiled or wept
There to abide with my Creator, God,
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Untroubling and untroubled where I lie
The grass below—above the vaulted sky.

While it would be pushing things to call this a secular work, I’m not sure it would be suitable for liturgical use; it isn’t really an anthem. So perhaps it is more suited to a choral concert, especially if there is a theme of mental health or alienation and how people express that through poetry and art. I’ve tried to present the turbulence of the first two stanzas and the wistfulness and longing for peace of the last stanza.

There is a .pdf and .midi at the Choral Public Domain Library, and as usual, this music is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution Share-Alike license. This means you can use it, reproduce it, whatever you like, as long as you attribute me and you release your work under a similar license.