In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 47: Alejandra Pizarnik

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 47: Alejandra Pizarnik

Hi all,

Here’s poem 47, from Alejandra Pizarnik (1936-1972), translated by Yvette Siegert. Pizarnik was a poet that I lost for years, I first read about her in a back issue of Modern Poetry in Translation. After that I kept meaning to go back to her and discover more of her work, but the need for her work faded. Over the years I’d forgotten her name, and I searched the Modern Poetry in Translation archives ravenously and found nothing. All I could remember about Pizarnik was that she wasn’t English, and that she’d taken her own life. In desperation a few months ago, I scoured the Wikipedia category of poets who had taken  their own lives, and eventually, I found Pizarnik again. Oddly I remembered her face, and I knew I had found my poet as soon as I saw her. Widely renowned in her native Argentina, Pizarnik only has only selection of her poetry available in English, called Extracting the Stone of Madness, translated by Yvette Siegert. Hopefully more of Pizarnik’s poetry will find it’s way into English, but for now I’m glad that some has made it through to English

 

Pizarnik

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In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 45: T.S. Eliot

In a Dark Wood: An Anthology of Depression: Poem 45: T.S. Eliot

Hi all,

Here’s poem 45, from T.S. Eliot (1888-1965). I’m writing a part of my dissertation on Eliot,  so needless to say I have a great deal to say about him, I’ll try to keep it brief. Eliot was no stranger to madness, as a breakdown occurred shortly before he wrote The Waste Land (1922). The exact nature of the breakdown remains unclear, but it’s affect on Eliot and his thinking cannot be under-estimated. Eliot also knew madness in another way; famously, Eliot’s first wife, Vivian, suffered from nervous breakdowns or what we would today call depression, and Eliot’s half-sister noted of the marriage, “Vivienne ruined Tom as a man, but she made him as a poet”. Eliot is a complex, often maddening poet, and I like to think of him as a closet confessional poet, as his famously allusive and verbose poetry is often much more autobiographical in their first drafts. Every now and again though, sometimes a merely a line, or a whole poem escapes being closeted and clothed in  Eliot’s aloofness, and keeps its confessional content. Today’s poem is one such poem, and I’m glad it was able to slip the net.

 

Hysteria

As she laughed I was aware of becoming involved in her

laughter and being part of it, until her teeth were only acci-

dental stars with a talent for squad-drill. I was drawn in by

short gasps, inhaled at each momentary recovery, lost finally

in the dark caverns of her throat, bruised by the ripple of

unseen muscles. An elderly waiter with trembling hands

was hurriedly spreading a pink and white checked cloth over

the rusty green iron table, saying: ‘If the lady and gentleman

wish to take their tea in the garden, if the lady and gentle-

man wish to take their tea in the garden. . .’ I decided that

if the shaking of her breasts could be stopped, some of the

fragments of the afternoon might be collected, and I con-

centrated my attention with careful subtlety to this end.

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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