Poet's Choice

By Robert Pinsky
Sunday, October 15, 2006

The expression "lyric" poetry refers to the lyre, a stringed instrument that in the ancient world accompanied recitation. The term implies intimacy on a personal scale: an instrument held in the hand rather than a musical ensemble; one person's voice instead of a choir. Solitude or even loneliness may be suggested. That feeling has rarely been expressed with more conviction, in less space, than in one of the best-known poems of John Clare (1793-1864):


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 oblivion's host,

Like shadows in love frenzied stifled throes

And yet I am, and live -- like vapors 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 lifes esteems;

Even the dearest that I love the best

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