Lifesaving Poems: Juan Ramón Jiménez’s ‘I Am Not I’

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I Am Not I

I am not I.
                   I am this one
walking beside me whom I do not see,
whom at times I manage to visit,
and whom at other times I forget;
who remains calm and silent while I talk,
and forgives, gently, when I hate,
who walks where I am not,
who will remain standing when I die.

Juan Ramón Jiménez, “‘I Am Not I’” from Lorca and Jiménez: Selected Poems.

Translated by Robert Bly

Lorca and Jimenez: Selected Poems (Beacon Press, 1973)

I came across this short, marvellous poem for the first time eighteen months ago.

A confession: it has sat on my shelf for years, in an anthology given to me by my wife (Poem for the Day: One, edited by Nicholas Albery and Peter Ratcliffe, with a foreword by Wendy Cope: The Natural Death Centre, 1994). Another confession: I only started reading this book towards the end of the previous year.

This is because I am a snob. On receiving it I resisted its simple (and clever) format, of presenting a different poem by a different poet on each day of the year, as too trite, too straightforward. I am also an idiot.

Each page contains notes on the poet and poem in question. These are written in plain English, without a trace of academic jargon. At the top of each page there are more notes, in bullet point format, telling you what happened on that day in history to poets of note. Who knew that William Stafford was born on 17 January, for example? Or that Sir Thomas Wyatt was sent to the Tower on that day in 1541? I certainly didn’t.

It’s a wonderful book. I wish I had begun reading it sooner. As I say: idiot.

The story is one of rediscovering something hidden in plain view all along. It is also that moment of recognition, of everything coming together, a private, teasing, silent absolute yes to the poem connecting with your life at the point at which you need it, unbidden and unforced, yet somehow unstoppable and inevitable.

As I have been saying recently, I find myself increasingly drawn to poems which are more in love with the traces they leave on the silence at the core of their moment than they are with the shiny surfaces of ego and performance. I honestly believe that if you held a gun to most poets heads they would say the same, in recognition of their true gifts and subjects.

This lovely, plain-as-clear-water poem by the Nobel Prize-winning Jiminéz is a parable of such mindfulness in action. It does not judge. It accepts that hatred may be present, and forgetfulness (including the awareness of presence itself). It knows when to be gentle. It accepts everything, even the fact of death.

What I love most is that it is without ambition for its own career and afterlife. It surrenders itself completely to its moment. Paradoxically, the moment it begins to disappear is also the moment it finds itself.

12 comments

  1. 600waystobeme

    This is a sideline – but I love the pictures you put with the poems. Today’s one especially intrigues me – what is the golden object in the left of the picture? Is it something held in front of the camera, or an actual item or tree growing in that field?

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hi there. Thanks so much for appreciating my visuals!
      This image is one I took in a field in Oxfordshire. I cannot remember the name of the place now, but it has a pottery next door to a really nice alternative cafe. On the walk across the field from one to the other I saw this golden statue, with animals grazing in the background. Click. From memory the statue relates to aspects of eastern religion. but I may be wrong about this. As ever with thanks and good wishes
      Anthony

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  2. Jo Bell

    Poem for the Day is my ‘desert island book’ (until I get yours in the post, anyway) and has been for many years. It’s a fantastic anthology. I bought it at a time when I was very skint and had far too many poetry books already, so wasn’t allowing myself to buy any more. I thought, ‘I’ll just open it at my birthday and see what the poem is’. It was The Sunne Rising. Obviously I had to buy it 🙂

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Raine

    Hi Kate

    You may find this post interesting.

    Your website is beautiful, there is a simplicity and sincerity there but it has a lot of power. I’m just editing a few new poems so will send you some soon. Hugs Raine

    Liked by 1 person

  4. janice

    Hi Anthony,
    Thank you for this poem, the poet and the anthology – what a gift and a wee journey of discovery ahead.

    I found your inspiring site through a friend, the very generous Joanna Paterson on Twitter. I’m a lapsed writer, poet and songwriter, but fortunately, the less I write, the more desperately and gratefully I devour. I’m with Mary Oliver on this one: “Poetry is a life-cherishing force. For poems are not words, after all, but fires for the cold, ropes let down to the lost, something as necessary as bread in the pockets of the hungry.”

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    • Anthony Wilson

      Hello Janice, thank you so much for your kind message. I do not know Joanna, but she certainly comes across on Twitter and on the net in general as a very generous person. A good spirit. I do hope you enjoy the book and that it will send you back to the blank page with confidence. As ever with best wishes and thanks, Anthony

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  5. Rhonda

    “I am not I” was given to me in January 2015, one year after my 17 year old son left earth and his body and his family and friends behind. It was a lifesaving poem for me, especially as I know Lou would have loved it too. I am so glad that my search for this poem today brought me to your website and your work, Anthony. (You can meet Lou, a poet and songwriter too in his short life, my bright shining son, at http://www.freeasthesun.com.) Blessings!

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