Sunday, 7 June 2020

Pitched past pitch of grief

The poet Gerard Manley Hopkins (1844-89), who was a depression sufferer, famously wrote six sonnets about his struggles with the illness. 

GMH

These are known as the 'Sonnets of Desolation' or 'Terrible Sonnets'. They were probaby written between 1885-6  when he lived in Ireland. Surprisingly Hopkins didn't send them to his friend Robert Bridges; they were discovered after his death. I have included the two which I feel best capture the horrors of depression:

I wake and feel the fell of dark, not day.
What hours, O what black hours we have spent
This night! what sights you, heart, saw; ways you went!
And more must, in yet longer light's delay.
   With witness I speak this. But where I say
Hours I mean years, mean life. And my lament
Is cries countless, cries like dead letters sent
To dearest him that lives alas! away.

   I am gall, I am heartburn. God's most deep decree
Bitter would have me taste: my taste was me;
Bones built in me, flesh filled, blood brimmed the curse.
   Selfyeast of spirit a dull dough sours. I see
The lost are like this, and their scourge to be
As I am mine, their sweating selves; but worse.


No worst, there is none. Pitched past pitch of grief,
More pangs will, schooled at forepangs, wilder wring.
Comforter, where, where is your comforting?
Mary, mother of us, where is your relief?
My cries heave, herds-long; huddle in a main, a chief
Woe, wórld-sorrow; on an áge-old anvil wince and sing —
Then lull, then leave off. Fury had shrieked 'No ling-
ering! Let me be fell: force I must be brief."'

    O the mind, mind has mountains; cliffs of fall
Frightful, sheer, no-man-fathomed. Hold them cheap
May who ne'er hung there. Nor does long our small
Durance deal with that steep or deep. Here! creep,
Wretch, under a comfort serves in a whirlwind: all
Life death does end and each day dies with sleep.

Considering that depression is almost an occupational hazard for poets - there have been surprisingly few good poems about the illness. Anyone know of any?

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