This is the tragedy of a man who could not make up his mind.

photograph by StockSnap via Pixabay

My tables—meet it is I set it down…

Hamlet

Between the idea
And the reality
Between the motion
And the act
Falls the Shadow

—T. S. Eliot, The Hollow Men

“Black Sheets Of Rain” – Bob Mould

Having it Out with Melancholy

LITHIUM CARBONATE | Li2CO3 – PubChem

2. BOTTLES

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)

“You may contribute a verse…”

H. C. Benedict, “Original And Unique The P. and H. Process Of Negative Development” (1939)

The question, O me! so sad, recurring — What good amid these,
O me, O life?

Answer.

That you are here — that life exists and identity,
That the powerful play goes on, and you may contribute a verse.

—Walt Whitman, Leaves of Grass

I’m thinking of you Mary Anne…

“Doctor Gordon doesn’t think you’ve improved at all…”

D Coetzee, “Neurology waiting room…” (2008)

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…

 

Fire And Rain by James Taylor

“A man so afflicted, Sir, must divert distressing thoughts, and not combat with them.”

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)

“A strange and horrible darkness fell upon me.”

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)

“Then if he thrive and I be cast away, the worst was this,—my love was my decay.”

cf. Everett Shinn, All Night Cafe (ca. 1900)

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.

Sonnet LXXX
 

“We grow accustomed to the dark when light is put away”

Marjory Collins, Bowery hotel about midnight (1942)

We grow accustomed to the Dark —
When Light is put away —
As when the Neighbor holds the Lamp
To witness her Goodbye —

A Moment — We uncertain step
For newness of the night —
Then — fit our Vision to the Dark —
And meet the Road — erect–

And so of larger — Darkness —
Those Evenings of the Brain —
When not a Moon disclose a sign —
Or Star — come out — within —

The Bravest — grope a little —
And sometimes hit a Tree
Directly in the Forehead —
But as they learn to see —

Either the Darkness alters —
Or something in the sight
Adjusts itself to Midnight —
And Life steps almost straight.

–Emily Dickinson

In the darkest place
I know that is where you’ll find me
Even though you didn’t have to remind me
I shut out the lights
Your eyes adjust
They’ll never be the same…

Bartleby, the Scrivener

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.”

—Conrad Aiken, Silent Snow, Secret Snow

“The weather of depression is unmodulated…”

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.

—William Styron, Darkness Visible