W. T. Starr, “The Idler” (ca. 1916)
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…
— Emily Dickinson
cf. Nancy Ford Cones, “Mending The Net” (ca. 1912) and John William Waterhouse, The Lady of Shalott (1888)
…trying as usual to get my picture of myself straight.
— Robert Lowell, Near the Unbalanced Aquarium
Dowland — Book of Songs, Book 1: “All ye whom love or fortune hath betrayed” (David Munderloh)
photograph by Liane Metzler via Unsplash
I believe I can cover most of the expenses of publication of my daughter’s “Alphabet.” My idea is not to persuade her that she is a Cézanne but that, on her 29th birthday, she may see something to persuade her that her whole past has not been a failure.
The reason I keep on trying by every means to find a solution for her case — which may come at any time as it did with my eyes — is that she may not think that she is left with a blank future as well.
I am aware that I am blamed by everybody for sacrificing that “precious metal” — money — to such an extent for such a purpose when it could be done so cheaply and quietly by locking her up in an economical “mental prison” for the rest of her life. I will not do so as long as I see a single chance of hope for her recovery nor blame her or punish her for the great crime she has committed in being a victim to one of the most elusive diseases known to men and unknown to medicine.
And I imagine that if you were where she is and felt as she must you would perhaps feel some hope if you felt that you were neither abandoned nor forgotten.
— Letter from James Joyce to Harriet Weaver, 1936 (quoted in Richard Ellmann, James Joyce)
cf. video by SlowMoJoe via Pixabay
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.
— Boswell’s Life of Johnson
photograph by Forrest Cavale via Unsplash (edit)
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…
— F. Scott Fitzgerald, Tender is the Night
“Compassion” – Todd Rundgren
Ernst Halberstadt, “Faneuil Square Outdoor Market” (1973)
No, no, go not to Lethe…
But when the melancholy fit shall fall
Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud,
That fosters the droop-headed flowers all,
And hides the green hill in an April shroud;
Then glut thy sorrow on a morning rose,
Or on the rainbow of the salt sand-wave,
Or on the wealth of globed peonies…
—Keats, Ode on Melancholy
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness – Suicide Prevention Awareness Month
Unknown, “Elizabeth Tappenden” (1876)
In Memory of Elizabeth Tappenden
I reach across time
to tell you
Cassius was wrong —
the fault is not yours.
“In Memory Of Elizabeth Reed” by The Allman Brothers Band
Welby Sherman (After Samuel Palmer), “The Shepherd” (1828)
Come, my friends,
’Tis not too late to seek a newer world.
Push off, and sitting well in order smite
The sounding furrows; for my purpose holds
To sail beyond the sunset, and the baths
Of all the western stars, until I die.
It may be that the gulfs will wash us down:
It may be we shall touch the Happy Isles,
And see the great Achilles, whom we knew.
Tho’ much is taken, much abides; and tho’
We are not now that strength which in old days
Moved earth and heaven, that which we are, we are;
One equal temper of heroic hearts,
Made weak by time and fate, but strong in will
To strive, to seek, to find, and not to yield.
—Alfred, Lord Tennyson, Ulysses (excerpt)
NAMI: National Alliance on Mental Illness | Mental Health Month
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
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)
cf. The Fire Within (Le feu follet) (1963) and Home Movie: 98927: St. Croix River and 1956 Honeymoon
“Now, you recall this memory, as if
it were someone else’s story…”
—from Margo Button, “With No Explanation”
Been breaking down
Do you want me now?
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)
Jack Delano, Untitled Photograph (detail) (1940)
One white morning, you awoke to find
your black feathers rooted in the lake’s early freeze.
Your friends had fled. Across the gelid expanse,
I answer your haunting call.
Here I am. Look at me. Talk to me.
—Margo Button, “With No Explanation” (excerpt)