When hurrying home on a rainy night And hearing tree-tops rubbed and tossed, And seeing never a friendly star And feeling your way when paths are crossed: Stop fast and turn three times around And try the logic of the lost.
Where is the heavenly light you dreamed? Where is your hearth and glowing ash? Where is your love by the mellow moon? Here is not even a lightning-flash, And in a place no worse than this Lost men shall wail and teeth shall gnash.
Lightning is quick and perilous, The dawn comes on too slow and pale, Your love brings only a yellow lamp, Yet of these lights one shall avail: The dark shall break for one of these, I’ve never known this thing to fail.
Again there has been a sad interval in our correspondence. But do not blame me. I have had a pretty severe return this summer of that mel- ancholy or hypochondria, which is inherent in my constitution and from which I have suffered miserably in former years, though since my marriage I have been wonderfully free from it. Your languor and discontent are occasioned by a gentler species of the distemper. You have a slow fever, I a raging one. While gloomy and fretful, and grossly indolent, I was shocked with the recollection of my good spirits, gayety, and activity, as a man with a headache is shocked by bright sunbeams. – But I need not describe my feelings to you. – The strange thing was that I did not write to you, a few lines, merely as firing guns of distress. Nobody here but my wife and worthy Johnson had the least notion of my being at all uneasy; for I have been remarkably busy this summer. I wrote about threescore law-papers, and got £124 in fees during last sessions two months. The court rose yesterday; and this day the clouds began to recede from my mind; I cannot tell from what cause.
It was not really alarming at first, since the change was subtle, but I did notice that my surroundings took on a different tone at certain times: the shadows of nightfall seemed more somber, my mornings were less buoyant, walks in the woods became less zestful, and there was a moment during my working hours in the late afternoon when a kind of panic and anxiety overtook me, just for a few minutes, accompanied by a visceral queasiness—such a seizure was at least slightly alarming, after all. As I set down these recollections, I realize that it should have been plain to me that I was already in the grip of the beginning of a mood disorder, but I was ignorant of such a condition at that time.
THE DAY is dark and the night To him that would search their heart; No lips of cloud that will part, Nor morning song in the light: Only, gazing alone, To him wild shadows are shown, Deep under deep unknown And height above unknown height. Still we say as we go,— “Strange to think by the way, Whatever there is to know, That shall we know one day.”
Jules Adolphe Breton, “The Song of the Lark” (1884)
“…and I walked in and there’s a painting there and I don’t even know who painted it but I think it’s called “The Song of the Lark” and it’s a woman working in a field and there’s a sunrise behind her and I saw it that day and I just thought well look — there’s a girl who doesn’t have a whole lot of prospects but the sun’s coming up anyway and she’s got another chance at it. I, too, am a person and get another chance; everyday the sun comes up.”
My genial spirits fail; And what can these avail To lift the smothering weight from off my breast? It were a vain endeavour, Though I should gaze for ever On that green light that lingers in the west; I may not hope from outward forms to win The passion and the life, whose fountains are within.
Art and eloquence, And all the shows o’ the world, are frail and vain To weep a loss that turns their lights to shade. It is a woe ‘too deep for tears’ when all Is reft at once, when some surpassing Spirit, Whose light adorned the world around it, leaves Those who remain behind, not sobs or groans, The passionate tumult of a clinging hope,— But pale despair and cold tranquillity, Nature’s vast frame, the web of human things, Birth and the grave, that are not as they were.
Marlow ceased, and sat apart, indistinct and silent, in the pose of a meditating Buddha. Nobody moved for a time. “We have lost the first of the ebb,” said the Director suddenly. I raised my head. The offing was barred by a black bank of clouds, and the tranquil waterway leading to the uttermost ends of the earth flowed sombre under an overcast sky—seemed to lead into the heart of an immense darkness.
— Conrad, Heart of Darkness
“So foul a sky clears not without a storm.”
— Shakespeare, King John
Whosoever unceasingly strives upward … him can we save.
Nicole’s world had fallen to pieces, but it was only a flimsy and scarcely created world; beneath it her emotions and instincts fought on. Was it an hour ago she had waited by the entrance, wearing her hope like a corsage at her belt?
. . . Dress stay crisp for him, button stay put, bloom narcissus–air stay still and sweet.
“It will be nice to have fun again,” she fumbled on. For a moment she entertained a desperate idea of telling him how rich she was, what big houses she lived in, that really she was a valuable property–for a moment she made herself into her grandfather, Sid Warren, the horse-trader. But she survived the temptation to confuse all values and shut these matters into their Victorian side-chambers–even though there was no home left to her, save emptiness and pain.
“I have to go back to the clinic. It’s not raining now.”
Dick walked beside her, feeling her unhappiness, and wanting to drink the rain that touched her cheek.
“I have some new records,” she said. “I can hardly wait to play them. Do you know–“
So little cause for carollings Of such ecstatic sound Was written on terrestrial things Afar or nigh around, That I could think there trembled through His happy good-night air Some blessèd Hope, whereof he knew And I was unaware.
A few light taps upon the pane made him turn to the window. It had begun to snow again. He watched sleepily the flakes, silver and dark, falling obliquely against the lamplight. The time had come for him to set out on his journey westward. Yes, the newspapers were right: snow was general all over Ireland. It was falling on every part of the dark central plain, on the treeless hills, falling softly upon the Bog of Allen and, farther westward, softly falling into the dark mutinous Shannon waves…
BEHOLD her, single in the field, Yon solitary Highland Lass! Reaping and singing by herself; Stop here, or gently pass! Alone she cuts and binds the grain, And sings a melancholy strain; O listen! for the Vale profound Is overflowing with the sound.
I THOUGHT once how Theocritus had sung Of the sweet years, the dear and wish’d-for years, Who each one in a gracious hand appears To bear a gift for mortals old or young: And, as I mused it in his antique tongue, I saw in gradual vision through my tears The sweet, sad years, the melancholy years— Those of my own life, who by turns had flung A shadow across me. Straightway I was ‘ware, So weeping, how a mystic Shape did move Behind me, and drew me backward by the hair; And a voice said in mastery, while I strove, ‘Guess now who holds thee?’— ‘Death,’ I said. But there The silver answer rang— ‘Not Death, but Love.’
— Elizabeth Barrett Browning, Sonnets from the Portuguese: i
When all the world is looming dark And things seem not so clear, When shadows seem to hover ’round Lord, may I persevere. When it seems everything’s been tried And there’s no way to go, Just let me keep remembering Sometimes the journey’s slow. I may just need to stop and rest Along the path I trod, A time to try to understand And have my talk with God. As I gain new strength to carry on Without a doubt or fear, Somehow I know things will be right, And so, I persevere.
A poor torn heart, a tattered heart, That sat it down to rest, Nor noticed that the ebbing day Flowed silver to the west, Nor noticed night did soft descend Nor constellation burn, Intent upon the vision Of latitudes unknown…
cf. photograph by guvo59 via Pixabay (edit) and video by McZerrill via Pixabay (edited collage)
The carriage swerved from the tramtrack to the smoother road past Watery lane. Mr Bloom at gaze saw a lithe young man, clad in mourning, a wide hat.
—There’s a friend of yours gone by, Dedalus, he said.
—Who is that?
—Your son and heir.
—Where is he? Mr Dedalus said, stretching over across.
The carriage, passing the open drains and mounds of rippedup roadway before the tenement houses, lurched round the corner and, swerving back to the tramtrack, rolled on noisily with chattering wheels. Mr Dedalus fell back, saying:
—Was that Mulligan cad with him? His fidus Achates!
cf. John C. Higgins, “Man in Bottle” (detail) (ca. 1888) and
video by Vimeo-Free-Videos via Pixabay (edited collage)
Every man must take the measure of his own strength. I may, I do, regret my want of fortitude; but so it is, that incurable depression of Spirits, Brooding, Indolence, Despondence, thence Pains and nightly Horrors…
— Letter from Coleridge to Daniel Stuart quoted in Richard Holmes, Coleridge: Darker Reflections
William James Mullins, “Children Fishing” (ca. 1900)
“…I worry about so many things, and everything is so hard for me. For instance, I cut my finger or hurt myself some way — and it’s a wound that heals for other people in a week, but it takes four weeks with me. It just won’t heal, it gets infected, gets really ghastly, and gives me all kinds of trouble. The other day Herr Brecht told me that my teeth look horrible, that they’re all deteriorating and wearing down, not to mention the ones he’s already pulled. That’s how things stand now. And what will I bite with when I’m thirty, or forty? I’ve lost all hope.”
“Come on,” Kai said and picked up the pace of their stroll. “And now tell me a little about your piano playing…are you going to play the piano this afternoon?”
Hanno was silent for a moment. A bleak, confused, feverish look came to his eyes. “Yes, I’ll probably improvise a while,” he said…
The “morbid melancholy,” which was lurking in his constitution, and to which we may ascribe those particularities, and that aversion to regular life, which, at a very early period, marked his character, gathered such strength in his twentieth year, as to afflict him in a dreadful manner. While he was at Lichfield, in the college vacation of the year 1729, he felt himself overwhelmed with a horrible hypochondria, with perpetual irritation, fretfulness, and impatience; and with a dejection, gloom, and despair, which made existence misery. From this dismal malady he never afterwards was perfectly relieved; and all his labours, and all his enjoyments, were but temporary interruptions of its baleful influence. He told Mr. Paradise that he was sometimes so languid and inefficient, that he could not distinguish the hour upon the town-clock.
Dick tried to rest — the struggle would come presently at home and he might have to sit a long time, restating the universe for her… But the brilliance, the versatility of madness is akin to the resourcefulness of water seeping through, over and around a dike. It requires the united front of many people to work against it… In a tired way, he planned that they would again resume the régime relaxed a year before…
Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin, Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax, Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft. The coated ones smell sweet or have no smell; the powdery ones smell like the chemistry lab at school that made me hold my breath.
—Jane Kenyon, “Having it Out with Melancholy” (excerpt)
I watched my mother grow smaller and smaller until she disappeared into the door of Doctor Gordon’s office building. Then I watched her grow larger and larger as she came back to the car. “Well?” I could tell she had been crying. My mother didn’t look at me. She started the car. Then she said, as we glided under the cool, deep-sea shade of the elms, “Doctor Gordon doesn’t think you’ve improved at all. He thinks you should have some shock treatments at his private hospital in Walton.” I felt a sharp stab of curiosity, as if I had just read a terrible newspaper headline about somebody else. “Does he mean live there?” “No,” my mother said, and her chin quivered. I thought she must be lying. “You tell me the truth,” I said, “or I’ll never speak to you again.” “Don’t I always tell you the truth?” my mother said, and burst into tears.
—Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar
Won’t you look down upon me, Jesus You got to help me make a stand You just got to see me through another day My body’s aching And my time is at hand And I won’t make it any other way…
Talking of constitutional melancholy, he observed, “A man so afflicted, Sir, must divert distressing thoughts, and not combat with them.” BOSWELL: “May not he think them down, Sir?” JOHNSON: “No, Sir. To attempt to THINK THEM DOWN is madness. He should have a lamp constantly burning in his bed-chamber during the night, and if wakefully disturbed, take a book, and read, and compose himself to rest…”
—Boswell’s Life Of Johnson
James McNeill Whistler, Reading in Bed (The Slipper) (1858)
Giovanni Benedetto Castiglione (called il Grechetto), Melancholia (ca. 1640)
“While I traversed the apartment in the most horrible dismay of soul, expecting every moment that the earth would open and swallow me up, my conscience scaring me…and the city of refuge out of reach and out of sight, a strange and horrible darkness fell upon me. If it were possible that a heavy blow could light upon the brain without touching the skull, such was the sensation I felt. I clapped my hand to my forehead, and cried aloud through the pain it gave me. At every stroke my thoughts and expressions became more wild and indistinct…These thoughts kept undisturbed possession of my mind all the way through my illness, without interruption or abatement.”
—William Cowper, “Memoir of the Early Life of William Cowper, Esq.” (1835)
O, how I faint when I of you do write Knowing a better spirit doth use your name, And in the praise thereof spends all his might, To make me tongue-tied, speaking of your fame! But since your worth—wide as the ocean is,— The humble as the proudest sail doth bear, My saucy bark, inferior far to his, On your broad main doth wilfully appear. Your shallowest help will hold me up afloat, Whilst he upon your soundless deep doth ride; Or, being wrack’d, I am a worthless boat, He of tall building and of goodly pride: Then if he thrive and I be cast away, The worst was this,—my love was my decay.
cf. Frances Benjamin Johnston, Post Office Dept. – Dead Letter Office (edited)
Yet, thought I, it is evident enough that Bartleby has been making his home here, keeping bachelor’s hall all by himself. Immediately then the thought came sweeping across me, What miserable friendlessness and loneliness are here revealed! His poverty is great; but his solitude, how horrible! Think of it. Of a Sunday, Wall-street is deserted as Petra; and every night of every day it is an emptiness. This building too, which of week-days hums with industry and life, at nightfall echoes with sheer vacancy, and all through Sunday is forlorn. And here Bartleby makes his home; sole spectator of a solitude which he has seen all populous —a sort of innocent and transformed Marius brooding among the ruins of Carthage!…
Ah Bartleby! Ah humanity!
—Herman Melville, Bartleby, the Scrivener
“…kept with him a sense as of snow falling about him, a secret screen of new snow between himself and the world.”
cf. Alfred Stieglitz, Reflections, night, New York (ca. 1897)
The night was blustery and raw, with a chill wet wind blowing down the avenues, and when Rose and I met Franchise and her son and a friend at La Lorraine, a glittering brasserie not far from L’Etoile, rain was descending from the heavens in torrents. Someone in the group, sensing my state of mind, apologized for the evil night, but I recall thinking that even if this were one of those warmly scented and passionate evenings for which Paris is celebrated I would respond like the zombie I had become. The weather of depression is unmodulated, its light a brownout.