Having it Out with Melancholy

Jane Kenyon

 

If many remedies are prescribed

for an illness, you may be certain
that the illness has no cure.

A. P. CHEKHOV

The Cherry Orchard

  1  FROM THE NURSERY
When I was born, you waited
behind a pile of linen in the nursery,
and when we were alone, you lay down
on top of me, pressing
the bile of desolation into every pore.
And from that day on
everything under the sun and moon
made me sad -- even the yellow
wooden beads that slid and spun
along a spindle on my crib.
You taught me to exist without gratitude.
You ruined my manners toward God:
"We're here simply to wait for death;
the pleasures of earth are overrated."
I only appeared to belong to my mother,
to live among blocks and cotton undershirts
with snaps; among red tin lunch boxes
and report cards in ugly brown slipcases.
I was already yours -- the anti-urge,
the mutilator of souls.
           2  BOTTLES
Elavil, Ludiomil, Doxepin,
Norpramin, Prozac, Lithium, Xanax,
Wellbutrin, Parnate, Nardil, Zoloft.
The coated ones smell sweet or have
no smell; the powdery ones smell
like the chemistry lab at school
that made me hold my breath.
3  SUGGESTION FROM A FRIEND
You wouldn't be so depressed
if you really believed in God.
           4  OFTEN
Often I go to bed as soon after dinner
as seems adult
(I mean I try to wait for dark)
in order to push away
from the massive pain in sleep's
frail wicker coracle.
5  ONCE THERE WAS LIGHT
Once, in my early thirties, I saw
that I was a speck of light in the great
river of light that undulates through time.
I was floating with the whole
human family. We were all colors -- those
who are living now, those who have died,
those who are not yet born. For a few
moments I floated, completely calm,
and I no longer hated having to exist.
Like a crow who smells hot blood
you came flying to pull me out
of the glowing stream.
"I'll hold you up. I never let my dear
ones drown!" After that, I wept for days.
       6  IN AND OUT
The dog searches until he finds me
upstairs, lies down with a clatter
of elbows, puts his head on my foot.
Sometimes the sound of his breathing
saves my life -- in and out, in
and out; a pause, a long sigh. . . .
           7  PARDON
A piece of burned meat
wears my clothes, speaks
in my voice, dispatches obligations
haltingly, or not at all.
It is tired of trying
to be stouthearted, tired
beyond measure.
We move on to the monoamine
oxidase inhibitors. Day and night
I feel as if I had drunk six cups
of coffee, but the pain stops
abruptly. With the wonder
and bitterness of someone pardoned
for a crime she did not commit
I come back to marriage and friends,
to pink fringed hollyhocks; come back
to my desk, books, and chair.
           8  CREDO
Pharmaceutical wonders are at work
but I believe only in this moment
of well-being. Unholy ghost,
you are certain to come again.
Coarse, mean, you'll put your feet
on the coffee table, lean back,
and turn me into someone who can't
take the trouble to speak; someone
who can't sleep, or who does nothing
but sleep; can't read, or call
for an appointment for help.
There is nothing I can do
against your coming.
When I awake, I am still with thee.
  9  WOOD THRUSH
High on Nardil and June light
I wake at four,
waiting greedily for the first
note of the wood thrush. Easeful air
presses through the screen
with the wild, complex song
of the bird, and I am overcome
by ordinary contentment.
What hurt me so terribly
all my life until this moment?
How I love the small, swiftly
beating heart of the bird
singing in the great maples;
its bright, unequivocal eye.
 
From Constance by Jane Kenyon, published by Graywolf Press. © 1993 by Jane Kenyon. Used with permission. All rights reserved.

Poems by This Author

Afternoon at MacDowell by Jane Kenyon
On a windy summer day the well-dressed
Alone for a Week by Jane Kenyon
I washed a load of clothes
At the Public Market Museum: Charleston, South Carolina by Jane Kenyon
A volunteer, a Daughter of the Confederacy,
Briefly It Enters, and Briefly Speaks by Jane Kenyon
I am the blossom pressed in a book,
Christmas Away from Home by Jane Kenyon
Her sickness brought me to Connecticut
Dutch Interiors by Jane Kenyon
Christ has been done to death
Happiness by Jane Kenyon
There’s just no accounting for happiness
Heavy Summer Rain by Jane Kenyon
The grasses in the field have toppled
Let Evening Come by Jane Kenyon
Let the light of late afternoon
Man Eating by Jane Kenyon
The man at the table across from mine
Mosaic of the Nativity: Serbia, Winter, 1993 by Jane Kenyon
On the domed ceiling God
Notes from the Other Side by Jane Kenyon
I divested myself of despair
Otherwise by Jane Kenyon
I got out of bed
Portrait of a Figure Near Water by Jane Kenyon
Rebuked, she turned and ran
Private Beach by Jane Kenyon
It is always the dispossessed
Taking Down the Tree by Jane Kenyon
The Suitor by Jane Kenyon
We lie back to back. Curtains
Thinking of Madame Bovary by Jane Kenyon
The first hot April day the granite step
Three Songs at the End of Summer by Jane Kenyon
A second crop of hay lies cut
Twilight: After Haying by Jane Kenyon
Yes, long shadows go out
What Came to Me by Jane Kenyon
I took the last


Further Reading

Poems About Illness
Kaddish, Part I
by Allen Ginsberg
A Litany in Time of Plague
by Thomas Nashe
Afternoon at MacDowell
by Jane Kenyon
Against Elegies
by Marilyn Hacker
Anxieties
by Donna Masini
Auld Lang Syne
by Jennifer L. Knox
Beasts
by Carmen Giménez Smith
Bedside
by William Olsen
Breathing
by Josephine Dickinson
Christmas Away from Home
by Jane Kenyon
Cognitive Deficit Market
by Joshua Corey
Evening
by Gail Mazur
Everyone Gasps with Anxiety
by Jeni Olin
Her Body Like a Lantern Next to Me
by John Rybicki
Hospital Writing Workshop
by Rafael Campo
In Memory of W. B. Yeats
by W. H. Auden
Losing It
by Margaret Gibson
Mastectomy
by Wanda Coleman
Phases
by Michael Redhill
Prayer for Sleep
by Cheryl Dumesnil
R.I.P., My Love
by Tory Dent
Sick
by Shel Silverstein
The Embrace
by Mark Doty
The Land of Counterpane
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Nurse
by Michael Blumenthal
The Sick Child
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Sick Rose
by William Blake
The Subalterns
by Thomas Hardy
The Transparent Man
by Anthony Hecht
The Visit
by Jason Shinder
To Amy Lowell
by Eunice Tietjens
Tubes
by Donald Hall
Units
by Albert Goldbarth
Visits to St. Elizabeths
by Elizabeth Bishop
Waking in the Blue
by Robert Lowell
When I Consider How My Light Is Spent
by John Milton