Having it Out With Melancholy

February 8, 2012

If you’ve never read this poem by Jane Kenyon, do it.

I was thinking about this poem the other day because there are so many parts that I feel like were written just for me. Someone showed it to me in college and I photocopied it and carried it around for years. I just recently thought of it again (how exciting that depression hasn’t been on my mind as much!) and had to search for it. I’d love to hear what other people think of it and which parts strike you.

For me, the first section is far too true. I have had some form of depression for as long as I can remember. I have very vivid memories of waking up before kindergarten and wanting to be dead. Nothing bad was happening at school but my family was a mess and I was not happy being alive. Kenyon says:


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.


“everything under the sun and moon made me sad.”

That was true for me for over 30 years.

I was also struck by:


 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.





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. . . .


The whole poem is still hard for me to read – and I have been “in remission” for three years now.  I don’t remember the despair in a visceral way anymore but I remember it.

It’s like when you have a really bad bruise and you get so used to it hurting when touched.  For the first few days after it doesn’t hurt, I still expect the pain.  I think that’s where I am with depression.