It is a long standing tradition that writers and the melancholy -and the two are often combined in the same human- turn to literature in times of mournful need. I know that I certainly do it, and if my preferred depression-times reading features rather more graphic novels than pretentious poetry, the works of Pratchett instead of Wordsworth, the point is still the same. Human creative endeavour has a way of easing the most painful of periods.
Except. Except when one’s mood, one’s sad song of oneself, is not created by the events of life, but instead by tiny monsters in the brain. One can read as many adventures of first-Sergeant-later-Captain-later-Duke Vimes as one wishes, but disease is a twisted, horrible thing that no amount of escapism can cure.
I generally avoid this sort of personal blather on For I Have tasted the Fruit, as it is generally more suited to the emocracy of Livejournalstan. Yet I wish to speak about it here. Here, I discuss everyone’s favourite medieval period, and regularly -well, back when my posts were regular- translate medieval and occasionally classical poetry. And the sentiments expressed in many of my favourite Anglo-Saxon pieces are, one would think, perfectly suited to this sort of mood.
The murnende mod of the woman in Wulf and Eadwacer; the weeping poet who laments the fall of the great past in The Ruin; the sea-weary soul of The Seafarer, with his ice-and-rain-soaked birds of prey: these are powerful images, powerful pieces of poetry, and one would think, expect, that reading them would make one’s own problems seem distant or petty- or, at the least, offer the consolation that such emotions are part of the broad spectrum of human experience.
I am sure that they do. Perhaps bound editions of the more misery-wracked of our period’s poetry could be bound and offered to depressives in psych wards. Read The Wanderer and appreciate loneliness, or Wulf and Eadwacer to help cope with abusive, ambiguous relationships. Unfortunately, when a key source of one’s stress is the very act of studying the period, one can stare at these carefully constructed words all day… and all one gets in return is a sense of growing unease.
I have not been able to write in months. I cannot remember the last time I set fingers to keys for anything longer than a status update- this post is approaching four hundred words, and the effort required to write it is exhausting. I am posting it today, a Monday, because the theme is so very medieval. I constantly find myself wondering- did Bede feel this kind of exhausted despair? Did Boethius? Is one of the much-vaunted ‘consolations’ of philosophy that it keeps one focused and energised? Because I have to say, as much as I try, my own scholarly efforts make me feel weak and inept, not focused and sharp.
Perhaps it is the summer. For all the misery some of the old English poets expressed, for all the hardship the icy-feathered eagle must endure, at least they did not have to survive the heat of Australia’s most hateful season.