Friday, 8 August 2008

Small despairs, odd lacunae


What governs human mood? C says it shifts for her. Sometimes a dark week will fall across her path with no specific reason. Body chemicals? Hormones? The slow build-up of anxieties that mount under the skin and rise to the surface like a blemish that seems to blight the whole body? Keats's influx of nightshade, ruby-grape of Prosperpine?



Let's try Robert Burton, the first page of whose Anatomy of Melancholy begins with a paean to humankind, to man, who is:

...a little world, a modell of the World, Soveraigne Lord of the Earth, Viceroy of the World, sole Commander and Governour of all the creatures in it...

Well, there's only one way from there and it is down. In any case, we think we know better now, we sole commanders and governours of all creatures, we viceroys.

I am not much subject to depression, probably because I am one of life's fidgety doers, mentally at any rate. Oh, the thoughts that rush through this head and chase each other round like demented children! I land myself with several tasks at once and so skip on. Skip and chase. Skip and chase. When poems arrive they gather out of a seeming nothing, the mysterious pulp of what one never really sees or knows, but that, once given a promising exit, runs out and begins to gnaw language into shape. Maybe it is that that saves me. That, and those odd lacunae, little spaces, missing links that leave one puzzled enough to explore them. Tiny toothaches of the mind one can't help fiddling with.

They are accompanied by big plans. I land myself with commitments to big plans. So, for example, in November I am invited to give the Kenneth Allott lecture at Liverpool University and I am thinking of something like 'The Englishness of English Poetry', much like Pevsner with his The Englishness of English Art. It's a bit crazy really, particularly because I have no real scholarship to speak of, but the subject is, I think, one of those odd personal lacunae if only because I am not English by birth. I sometimes think I inhabit English like a lodger in an old fashioned B & B. What? Ain't you got no 'ome to go to? Not really. Home is another country, a notional place, a unscored music at the back of the mind. Besides, like Kinglsey Amis once said, 'I like it here.' Go for the odd walk down the prom, and that.

But back to melancholy - see, I have almost driven away the faint shadow that had settled over me only half an hour ago, or was it a deep dissatisfaction from having worked through the proofs of my Collected? - to melancholy that has never yet incapacitated me. Never have I, like GL, been unable to get out of bed for the sheer weight of it. My despairs, those I know about, are relatively small. They fall into those odd lacunae. Into language.

Speak then fool, no commander of creation, merely of a few words now and then. Emperor of lexicon and marginal. Ghost empire. Brief light.



2 comments:

notesfromaroom said...

When poems arrive they gather out of a seeming nothing, the mysterious pulp of what one never really sees or knows, but that, once given a promising exit, runs out and begins to gnaw language into shape. Maybe it is that that saves me.

Wonderful. I like it here.

Space Bar said...

Perhaps only those who take pleasure in the state of melancholy remain in it.