‘I Am’ by Sylvia Plath

[  # 75 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]


‘I took a deep breath

and listened to the old brag of my heart:

I am,

I am,

I am.’


Today’s offering is not, strictly speaking a poem.  It is a very short, one sentence, quotation from theThe Bell Jar’, (written under the pseudonym, ‘Victoria Lucas’), the only novel ever written by the American poet, Sylvia Plath, who committed suicide, aged 30, shortly after its publication in 1963.

I am using it today as its introspection does mirror that of John Clare, whose ‘I Am’ verses I featured a week ago.  Both Clare and Plath were troubled beings, suffering for long periods of their lives from severe mood swings and depression.

In this one sentence from her novel, Sylvia Plath, cries out with similar force to that which John Clare was expressing in his poem, for the self-belief and recognition which both felt had eluded them . . .  ‘I AM! yet what I am who cares, or knows?’ 





John Clare – ‘I AM’

[  # 74 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]



John Clare (1793 – 1864) was an English poet.   Born in Northamptonshire, he was the son of a farm labourer, who became known for his celebrations of the English countryside and for regularly expressing sorrows at its disruption.   His poetry underwent major re-evaluation in the late 20th century and he is now often seen as one of the 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.”  Many of his poems are filled with a joy he experienced in nature and the countryside.  Sadly, however, for the last 25 years of his life Clare suffered from mental illness and was incarcerated in a mental institution.   In this wistful soul-searching poem, described by some as “one of the greatest poems of sheer despair ever written”, Clare spills out his desolation and detachment from a life which he would dearly love to have lived . . . 

‘I AM’ . . .  by John Clare


I AM! yet what I am who cares, or knows? 
My friends forsake me, like a memory lost.
I am the self-consumer of my woes,
They rise and vanish, an oblivious host,
Shadows of life, whose very soul is lost.         5
And yet I am—I live—though I am toss’d.
Into the nothingness of scorn and noise,
Into the living sea of waking dream,
Where there is neither sense of life, nor joys,
But the huge shipwreck of my own esteem         10
And all that’s dear. Even those I loved the best
Are strange—nay, they are stranger than the rest.
I long for scenes where man has never trod—
For scenes where woman never smiled or wept—
There to abide with my Creator, God,         15
And sleep as I in childhood sweetly slept,
Full of high thoughts, unborn. So let me lie,
The grass below; above, the vaulted sky.



U. A. Fanthorpe – ‘ATLAS’

 [  No.72 of my favourite short poems  ]


After all the recent talk of LOVE surrounding VALENTINE’s DAY, here is a very down-to-earth poem by what we could perhaps call a no-nonsense down-to earth poet,  U.A.Fanthorpe. 

Born in 1928, Ursula Askham (normally using just her initials, U.A.), Fanthorpe, died, aged 79, in 2009, near her home in Wotton-under-Edge, Gloucestershire.  After studying at Oxford University, she went on to teach English at  Cheltenham Ladies’ College for sixteen years, before giving up teaching.  She was aged 50 before her first collection of poems was published, having noted, quite precisely, that “On 18 April 1974 I started writing poems”.  She was later made a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature and was awarded a CBE in 2001 for services to poetry.  In 2003 she received the Queen’s Gold Medal for Poetry.

Perhaps her best known poem is ‘Atlas’.  The poem presents a far-from-romantic view of LOVE.  Certainly a positive, worthwhile, and all the more powerful for that, view of the realities of a truly loving relationship . . . 



‘ATLAS’ . . . by U. A. Fanthorpe


There is a kind of love called maintenance
Which stores the WD40 and knows when to use it;

Which checks the insurance, and doesn’t forget
The milkman; which remembers to plant bulbs;

Which answers letters; which knows the way
The money goes; which deals with dentists

And Road Fund Tax and meeting trains,
And postcards to the lonely; which upholds

The permanently rickety elaborate
Structures of living, which is Atlas.

And maintenance is the sensible side of love,
Which knows what time and weather are doing
To my brickwork; insulates my faulty wiring;
Laughs at my dryrotten jokes; remembers
My need for gloss and grouting; which keeps
My suspect edifice upright in air,
As Atlas did the sky.


UA Fanthorpe, from ‘Safe as Houses’ (Peterloo Poets, 1995)





Thomas Hardy – ‘Regret Not Me’

 [  No.71 of my favourite short poems  ]

Yorks-Haworth Churchyard-1983

‘The Churchyard, Haworth’ … WHB – Pen & Ink:  1983

There is sadness, but with a quiet acceptance, in Hardy’s recall of the optimism of his ‘heydays’.  He has come to an accommodation with old age. long life and a resignation which will take him content into his everlasting ‘slumber’.


Regret not me;
Beneath the sunny tree
I lie uncaring, slumbering peacefully.

Swift as the light
I flew my faery flight;
Ecstatically I moved, and feared no night.

I did not know
That heydays fade and go,
But deemed that what was would be always so.

I skipped at morn
Between the yellowing corn,
Thinking it good and glorious to be born.

I ran at eves
Among the piled-up sheaves,
Dreaming, “I grieve not, therefore nothing grieves.”

Now soon will come
The apple, pear, and plum
And hinds will sing, and autumn insects hum.

Again you will fare
To cider-makings rare,
And junketings; but I shall not be there.

Yet gaily sing
Until the pewter ring
Those songs we sang when we went gipsying.

And lightly dance
Some triple-timed romance
In coupled figures, and forget mischance;

And mourn not me
Beneath the yellowing tree;
For I shall mind not, slumbering peacefully


Thomas Hardy

‘Thomas Hardy’ (1840-1928) by Walter William Ouless (National Portrait Gallery) 


Readers may find it interesting to compare and contrast the lyrics of the classic Edith Piaf song . . .



Sara Teasdale – ‘A Winter Night’

 [  No.70 of my favourite short poems  ]

Acquainted With The Night

Winter Night … Pen & Wash – WHB

A Winter Night

My windowpane is starred with frost,
The world is bitter cold tonight,
The moon is cruel, and the wind
Is like a two-edged sword to smite.

God pity all the homeless ones,
The beggars pacing to and fro.
God pity all the poor tonight
Who walk the lamp lit streets of snow.

My room is like a bit of June,
Warm and close-curtained fold on fold,
But somewhere, like a homeless child,
My heart is crying in the cold.


by Sara Teasdale


NOTES:  (adapted from Wikipedia) . . . 

Sara Teasdale (1884 – 1933) was an American lyric poet.  She was born Sarah Trevor Teasdale in St. Louis, Missouti, and used the name Sara Teasdale Filsinger after her marriage in 1914.  . . .  From 1911 to 1914  Teasdale was courted by several men, including the poet Vachel Lindsay, who was truly in love with her but did not feel that he could provide enough money or stability to keep her satisfied.  (In 1914) she chose to marry Ernst Filsinger, a long-time admirer of her poetry  . . .  In 1918 she won a Pulitzer Prize for her 1917 poetry collection ‘Love Songs’  . . .  In 1933, she died by suicide, overdosing on sleeping pills.  Lindsay had died by suicide two years earlier.



He is Gone

funeral party

A Quote from that great  English comedienne, actress, singer and songwriter, screenwriter, producer and director, Victoria Wood, who sadly passed away in 2016 at the age of 63 . . .

“In India, if a man dies, the widow flings herself onto the funeral pyre; if a man dies in this country, the woman just drags herself into the kitchen and says, ‘Seventy-two baps, Connie, you slice, I’ll spread’ “

From: ‘Great British Wit’ by Rosemary Jarski  (Ebury Press 2009)


Pull the stops out
He is gone;
Start a new life,
Don’t dwell upon

What once was quick,
It now is dead,
Life starts afresh;
He always said,

“When I am gone
Do not be sad,
Start a new life
And be glad.

Get out the glad rags,
Have a party,
You’ll be fine now,
Hale and hearty.

Ready to start
A brand new life,
A brand new woman,
An experienced wife.

Time to sparkle,
Forget the past;
Your Prince awaits you,
Free at last.

For when I’m safely
In my box,
No need then
To stop all the clocks.”




My Christmas Age


I am one Christmas older than my age
And I thought this gave to me a great advantage;
But of course that is not true,
Because it’s just the same for you;
Think about it, then assess the damage.




On Sleep

A brief meditation on Macbeth’s predicament, following a reading of a book review on ‘Why We Sleep’ by Matthew Walker (Pub. Allen Lane) – December 2017 …

‘Sleep that knits up the raveled sleave of care, The death of each day’s life, sore labor’s bath, Balm of hurt minds, great nature’s second course, Chief nourisher in life’s feast.’   Macbeth: Act 2, Scene 2, 

‘Methought I heard a voice cry “Sleep no more… Macbeth does murder sleep!  – – The innocent sleep.” ‘  Macbeth: Act 2, scene 2.




Sleep, being dead
What life is left to live
But one unfitted to the name
Rest denied is constant woe
No respite from dread
No safe house from fear
Unnourished now
What hope can ever be
Even contrition
Affording no escape
Confession no solace
Macbeth’s endowment
To the innocent
But afflicted soul


Wendy Cope: ‘The Uncertainty of the Poet’

[  No.68 of my favourite short poems  ]

The uncertainty which afflicts many poets concerning their right to call themselves such, is perhaps illustrated in this ‘Vimrod’ cartoon to be found on the lastlemon.com website, and further expressed in Wendy Cope’s delightful short poem, below . . .

Vimrod-I am a Poet

The indecision which afflicts so many of us, leaves us, as in the last line of Wendy Cope’s poem, still insecure, unsure of ourselves and our abilities, and certainly ‘uncertain’.  But the need to press on remains, regardless of our doubts, and that is what tells me we must have something of the poet in us.



‘The Uncertainty of the Poet’  by  Wendy Cope


I am a poet.
I am very fond of bananas.

I am bananas.
I am very fond of a poet.

I am a poet of bananas.
I am very fond.

A fond poet of ‘I am, I am’ –
Very bananas.

Fond of ‘Am I bananas?
Am I?’ – a very poet.

Bananas of a poet!
Am I fond? Am I very?

Poet bananas! I am.
I am fond of a ‘very’.

I am of very fond bananas.
Am I a poet?


Vimrod – as explained on Wikipedia:

Vimrod is a cartoon character created by Lisa Swerling & Ralph Lazar.  Vimrod is best known for its greetings cards, which sell worldwide in the millions, and books, which are published by Harper Collins and Andrews McMeel / Universal press Syndicate.


Adrian Henri – ‘Tonight at Noon’

(No.67 of my favourite short poems)

Photograph – WHB   ©


Tonight at Noon  . . .  A Poem by Adrian Henri

Tonight at noon
Supermarkets will advertise 3p extra on everything
Tonight at noon
Children from happy families will be sent to live in a home
Elephants will tell each other human jokes
America will declare peace on Russia
World War I generals will sell poppies on the street on November 11th
The first daffodils of autumn will appear
When the leaves fall upwards to the trees 

Tonight at noon
Pigeons will hunt cats through city backyards
Hitler will tell us to fight on the beaches and on the landing fields
A tunnel full of water will be built under Liverpool
Pigs will be sighted flying in formation over Woolton
And Nelson will not only get his eye back but his arm as well
White Americans will demonstrate for equal rights
In front of the Black house
And the monster has just created Dr. Frankenstein 

Girls in bikinis are moonbathing
Folksongs are being sung by real folk
Art galleries are closed to people over 21
Poets get their poems in the Top 20
There’s jobs for everybody and nobody wants them
In back alleys everywhere teenage lovers are kissing in broad daylight
In forgotten graveyards everywhere the dead will quietly bury the living
You will tell me you love me
Tonight at noon



Adrian Henri was born in Birkenhead, near the port of Liverpool, England, in 1932. He described his early philosophy as “If you think you can do it and you want to do it—then do it.”  Along with Brian Patten and Roger McGough, Adrian Henri was the third member of the group who came to prominence in 1967 on the publication of ‘Mersey Sound’, the Penguin anthology of the Merseybeat or Liverpool Poets. 

As an artist of often surreal paintings, this was also at times apparent in his poetry, as in ‘Tonight at Noon’ which I feature above.  There is humour here along with the pathos of the ending where it is realised, but only at the very end of the poem, that the poet is considering all the impossible happenings which would need to take place before his love was likely to be returned.  Henri died in 2000 and is buried in  Montparnasse Cemetery, Paris, France.