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The miracle of melancholia
by possibly noteworthy at 5:56 am EST, Feb 23, 2008

Eric G. Wilson:

We're a nation obsessed with being happy, but sometimes feeling bad can do you some good.

What makes us melancholy, Keats concluded, is our awareness of things inevitably passing -- of brothers dying before they reach 20; of nightingales that cease their songs; of peonies drooping at noon. But it is precisely when we sense impending death that we grasp the world's beauty.

Melancholia, far from error or defect, is an almost miraculous invitation to rise above the contented status quo and imagine untapped possibilities. We need sorrow, constant and robust, to make us human, alive, sensitive to the sweet rhythms of growth and decay, death and life.

This of course does not mean that we should simply wallow in gloom, that we should wantonly cultivate depression. I'm not out to romanticize mental illnesses that can end in madness or suicide.

On the contrary, following Keats and those like him, I'm valorizing a fundamental emotion too frequently avoided in the American scene. I'm offering hope to those millions who feel guilty for being downhearted. I'm saying that it's more than all right to descend into introspective gloom. In fact, it is crucial, a call to what might be the best portion of ourselves, those depths where the most lasting truths lie.

From the archive:

What drives this rage for complacency, this desperate contentment?

Also, a Saturday poem:


An enemy without borders
hate without boundaries
a people, perverted
a religion, betrayed
a nuclear power in chaos
madmen, bent on creating it
leaders assassinated
democracy attacked
and Osama bin Laden,
still making threats.
In a world where
the next crisis
is a moment away
America needs a leader
who's ready.

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