In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 43: Wendy Cope

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 43: Wendy Cope

Depression

By Wendy Cope

You lie, snail-like, on your stomach–
I dare not speak or touch,
Knowing too well the ways of our kind–
The retreat, the narrowing spiral.
We are both convinced it is impossible
To close the distance.
I can no more cross this room
Than Zeno’s arrow.

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In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression Poem 42: Elizabeth Bishop

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression Poem 42: Elizabeth Bishop

Visits to St. Elizabeths
BY ELIZABETH BISHOP

This is the house of Bedlam.

This is the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the time
of the tragic man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a wristwatch
telling the time
of the talkative man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the honored man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the roadstead all of board
reached by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the old, brave man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls of the ward,
the winds and clouds of the sea of board
sailed by the sailor
wearing the watch
that tells the time
of the cranky man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
beyond the sailor
winding his watch
that tells the time
of the cruel man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a world of books gone flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
over the creaking sea of board
of the batty sailor
that winds his watch
that tells the time
of the busy man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is there, is flat,
for the widowed Jew in the newspaper hat
that dances weeping down the ward
waltzing the length of a weaving board
by the silent sailor
that hears his watch
that ticks the time
of the tedious man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to feel if the world is there and flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances joyfully down the ward
into the parting seas of board
past the staring sailor
that shakes his watch
that tells the time
of the poet, the man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

This is the soldier home from the war.
These are the years and the walls and the door
that shut on a boy that pats the floor
to see if the world is round or flat.
This is a Jew in a newspaper hat
that dances carefully down the ward,
walking the plank of a coffin board
with the crazy sailor
that shows his watch
that tells the time
of the wretched man
that lies in the house of Bedlam.

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 42: Paul Durcan

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 42: Paul Durcan

Hi all,

Here’s poem forty-two, from Paul Durcan (1944-). It’s from Durcan’s collection, Praise in which I Live and Move and Have my Being (2012), however I first came across the poem in an anthology called Shine On: Irish Writers for Shine (Shine is the Irish equivalent of Mind, England’s mental health charity). It’s a staggering, illuminating poem, and to borrow Durcan’s terminology, I wake up with a large percentage of depression, but like him I don’t despair, though I am depressed on some level all the time. The distinction between the two is a tough one to navigate, but Durcan does it beautifully. I read in a newspaper interview that Durcan was hesitant to publish the poem, but I’m immensely glad that he did.

 

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Poem 41

Poem 41

Hi all,

Here’s the last day of Lowell week. Today’s poem is from Lowell’s volume, History (1973). In the seventies, Lowell published three books of sonnets, that were rewritten versions of poems that had appeared in his massive collection, Notebook 1967-1968 (1969) (revised and expanded as Notebook, 1970). This began his most prolific period, as in 1973 Lowell published History, For Lizzie &  Harriet & finally The Dolphin, which won Lowell his second Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Along with Lowell’s last collection, Day by Day (1977). Lowell’s work of the seventies is, I think, among his most personal, as For Lizzie & Harriet assesses Lowell’s divorce from his first wife, Elizabeth Hardwick, and his relationship with Harriet, his daughter. In The Dolphin, Lowell explored his new relationship, in all its crises and uncertainties, and attracted a great deal of criticism for using other people’s letters in the book. It’s also worth noting that in the late sixties Lowell was treated with a new drug, Lithium, which is today the gold standard of treating manic-depression (or Bipolar Disorder). In a 1968 letter, Lowell wrote “These pills for my manic seizures seem to have made a cure, tho I will take them to my dying. This has changed my life, not only no attacks, no hospitals, but even, and perhaps most, health itself is different, freer and out of the shadow.” Sadly Lowell became toxic on Lithium and had to cease taking the drug in 1975, though he continued taking it in the final months of his life.

‘Last Night’, today’s poem, contains a line that’s fitting to end the week. Lowell writes, “Ah the swift vanishing of my older/generation – the deaths, suicide, madness/of Roethke Berryman, Jarrell and Lowell.” At the time of writing the poem, Lowell was the last ‘Confessional’ poet left standing of his generation. All the others, as he says, either took their own lives or died of natural causes, exacerbated by their illnesses. Lowell’s later poetry is imbued with the urgency of witnessing. His gaze is urgent, and has the clarity of a survivor, and we’re lucky to have it.

 

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Poem 40

Poem 40

Hi all,

Here’s day six of Lowell week, it another poem from Lowell’s final book, Day by Day (1977). Lowell wrote about suicide a great deal in his writing, in both prose and poetry, and many of Lowell’s friends and contemporaries,  such as John Berryman , Sylvia Plath, Randall Jarrell, and Anne Sexton ended their own lives. Lowell’s depressions and suicidal feelings were many, and he wrote about them with an eloquence and a piercing clarity that is truly inspiring. It’s the poem’s clear-headedness and clarity that makes the poem memorable, and that made the poem a necessary one to include this week.

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Poem 39

Poem 39

Hi all,

Here’s day five of Lowell week. It’s a poem from Lowell’s volume Life Studies (1959), and it closes the volume. Lowell’s description of depression, “I hear/my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,/as if my hand were at its throat. . . ./I myself am hell;/nobody’s here—/” remains one of the best I know. Funnily enough, in my first year at university I studied this poem in my seminar group, and I was eager to hear what the group has to say about the poem. By and large, they hated it; whereas I loved it, not all of it, but enough to press it into my friend’s hands. I liked the poem so much that I wrote my final essay on it, the central thesis being that the poem was autobiographical, and undeniably so. My seminar leader thought poems had nothing to  do with the author’s lives. I disagreed then, and I disagree now. The poetry and the life are intertwined, sometimes overtly, and may times covertly, but also the two interact, like dancers who are wary of trodding on each other’s foot.

Skunk Hour
BY ROBERT LOWELL
(For Elizabeth Bishop)

 

Nautilus Island’s hermit
heiress still lives through winter in her Spartan cottage;
her sheep still graze above the sea.
Her son’s a bishop. Her farmer
is first selectman in our village;
she’s in her dotage.

Thirsting for
the hierarchic privacy
of Queen Victoria’s century,
she buys up all
the eyesores facing her shore,
and lets them fall.

The season’s ill—
we’ve lost our summer millionaire,
who seemed to leap from an L. L. Bean
catalogue. His nine-knot yawl
was auctioned off to lobstermen.
A red fox stain covers Blue Hill.

And now our fairy
decorator brightens his shop for fall;
his fishnet’s filled with orange cork,
orange, his cobbler’s bench and awl;
there is no money in his work,
he’d rather marry.

One dark night,
my Tudor Ford climbed the hill’s skull;
I watched for love-cars . Lights turned down,
they lay together, hull to hull,
where the graveyard shelves on the town. . . .
My mind’s not right.

A car radio bleats,
“Love, O careless Love. . . .” I hear
my ill-spirit sob in each blood cell,
as if my hand were at its throat. . . .
I myself am hell;
nobody’s here—

only skunks, that search
in the moonlight for a bite to eat.
They march on their soles up Main Street:
white stripes, moonstruck eyes’ red fire
under the chalk-dry and spar spire
of the Trinitarian Church.

I stand on top
of our back steps and breathe the rich air—
a mother skunk with her column of kittens swills the garbage pail
She jabs her wedge-head in a cup
of sour cream, drops her ostrich tail,
and will not scare.

Poem 38

Poem 38

Hi all,

Welcome to day four of Lowell week. Today’s poem is from Robert Lowell’s last (and I think his best) book, Day by Day (1977). It’s a poem that seems to be in dialogue with yesterday’s poem, as it analyses the ways in which a relationship is strained, and the way relationships fall apart. Anthony Hecht said that Lowell’s last book was “a very touching, moving, gentle book, tinged with a sense of his [Lowell’s] own pain and the pain [he’d] given to others.” No poem demonstrates what Hecht is talking about more than this poem, ‘Off Central Park’. Towards the end of his life, Lowell divorced Elizabeth Hardwick, his wife at the time of writing yesterday’s poem, and their divorce and Lowell’s indecision, formed the basis of his book, For Lizzie & Harriet (1973). Lowell’s mixed feelings about starting a new relationship with Caroline Blackwood were dissected in his Pulitzer Prize winning book of the same year, The DolphinDay  by Day, however, is Lowell’s most affecting and moving book, due to the qualities that Anthony Hecht emphasised. The poem’s last lines are some of the most honest and piercingly sad that Lowell ever wrote. The book (and the poem) is one of honest regrets, of crediting marvels, a book of last looks. In many ways it’s Lowell’s best book, and it’s well worth seeking out.

 

 

 

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