I am

for SATB Chorus unaccompanied
Words by Mary Elizabeth Frye: Public Domain
Music by Stanley M. Hoffman
© Copyright 2018 by Stanley M. Hoffman. www.stanleymhoffman.com All rights reserved.

The poem above is sometimes called “I Am” due to its repetition of the phrase. Was the poem inspired? The Hebrew name for God, YHWH, means “I am” or “I am that I am.” And there does seem to be something magical about the poem, as it was written by a woman who, to our knowledge, had never written a poem before. Mary Elizabeth Frye was an orphan with no formal education. In 1932 she and her husband hosted a young Jewish woman, Margaret Schwarzkopf, who was fleeing the Holocaust. When she received news that her mother had died in Germany, the heartbroken houseguest told Frye in despair that she had never had the chance to “stand by my mother’s grave and shed a tear.” Frye found herself composing the poem above on a ripped-off section of a brown paper shopping bag. She said the words “just came to her.”

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