Monday, October 4, 2010

Melancholy Monday

The Definition of Melancholy
By Benjimester

As a lover of poetry, the definition of melancholy was always a fascinating but elusive study. For a long time, the world fascinated me, but I struggled to find its definition. It's a concept in poetry that's often elusive and obscure. As I studied poetry, I was surprised to find that the language used by the poets on the definition and subject of melancholy was often purposefully ambiguous. They seemed hesitant to want to explain it, as though it's some feeling that none can define.
And as I continued to read the classic poems, I stumbled more and more upon the concept of an indescribable longing locked away deeply in every human heart, a yearning for something that no one can clearly define but to say that it's simply the longing to live life to the full, to seize the day. Soren Kierkegaard defined this phenomena of poetry in his book Purity of Heart: “It seems to him, according to the poets’ explanation, as if something inexpressible thrusts itself forward from his innermost being, the unspeakable, for which indeed language has no vessel of expression. Even the longing is not the unspeakable itself. It is only the hastening after it.”
The classic poets who often talked about this feeling of melancholy and longing, confirm what Kierkegaard said by leaving the feeling ambiguous. Here are some excerpts from a few poems that talk about melancholy. Notice the same inexpressible, ambiguous nature of the wording. The first excerpt is from “The Buried Life,” by Matthew Arnold.
“Light flows our war of mocking words, and yet,
Behold, with tears my eyes are wet.
I feel a nameless sadness o’er me roll”

The definition of melancholy is something evasive yet profound.
A nameless sadness, he says, something that makes his heart sigh that he cannot fully describe. Next from “Maud Muller,” by John Greenleaf Whittier:
“But, when she glanced to the far-off town,
White from its hill-slope looking down,
The sweet song died, and a vague unrest
And a nameless longing filled her breast--”
Again the same style of language is used. When talking about this thing called melancholy, always the poets are purposefully vague. And yet, I think that this ambiguous language about the human condition is what makes these poems so deep and powerful. They leave the feelings un-named, knowing that such emotions are hidden in every human heart, that they cannot be explained, only felt and drawn out through the beauty of noble things.
I have one more excerpt which talks about the definition of melancholy. I wanted to save it for last, because I think it's the most powerful. It's from “The Day is Done,” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow:
“The day is done, and the darkness
Falls from the wings of night,
As a feather is wafted downward
From an eagle in flight.
I see the lights of the village
Gleam through the rain and the mist,
And a feeling of sadness comes o'er me
That my soul cannot resist.
A feeling of sadness and longing,
That is not akin to pain,
And resembles sorrow only
As the mist resembles the rain.”
There is a devious sadness to the world in which we live – a sadness that comes to find us in the night, when we're all alone under the canopy of a million stars. Something within us knows that we ought to be better – that our love ought to burn brighter and shine more fiercely – that our passion and conviction for life ought to be strong, and lead us through that nagging temptation to settle for the ordinary and mundane. Something within us knows that life was always meant to be lived to the full. And this something, when it comes to find us, convicts us of all the cheap and common things we often settle for. This feeling, in my mind, is the definition of melancholy.

1 comment:

  1. Wonderful picture, fantastic poem very articulate, thanks for sharing.