Those of you who have followed this daily blog for some years, and who have seen me through more than one bipolar episode of mania and depression, know I often turn for comfort to the poems of Gerard Manley Hopkins.
Hopkins was a nineteenth century poet. He died in 1889 and was almost unknown in his lifetime; not achieving any kind of popularity or recognition until the mid-twentieth century. He was a Jesuit priest whose periods of dark depression resulted in both struggles with his faith and a deepening of that faith. His life was dogged by failure, yet he produced (to my mind at least) the most glorious body of work; celebrating the wonder of nature, the unquenchable spirit of humanity, and expressing the agonies of deep depression.
It is his Desolation Sonnets, as they are known, which get me through my own nights of darkness. This time, as I lie awake at 2am, 3am, 4am, it is his poem “(Carrion Comfort)” which has supported me.
“NOT, I’ll not, carrion comfort, Despair, not feast on thee; Not untwist – slack they may be – these last strands of man In me or, most weary, cry I can no more, I can; Can something, hope, wish day come, not choose not to be.”
It has been that phrase, “Wish day come,” that has been the anchor which has held me steady.
Maybe it is having been brought up on a farm where the milking started at 6.30am. Rain or shine, summer or winter, illness notwithstanding, the cows had to be milked. For me, the day can reasonably start at 6am or, if I push it, 5.30am.
Awaking in the winter darkness, my first thought is to check the time. Inevitably, it is far too early to get up – there are still hours of night to endure and the demons of that night to withstand.
Here, Hopkins helps. That phrase, “wish day come” has given me something to hold onto. I turn over, burrow my cheek into a cool place on the pillow, and start to plan the day ahead.
I know I won’t be able to achieve nearly as much as I hope – my physical strength in these times is as compromised as my mental and emotional strength – but at least I can make a list of the things I want to do or – given that I have little enthusiasm for anything – a list of things that must or could be done.
I begin to make lists of household tasks, the cards I would like to make for friends, the blogs I intend to write on this forum, the articles for LinkedIn. All of them are intellectual exercises; none of them have emotional resonance but they are something to keep my mind occupied while I wait for sleep, or 6am, to come.
And then, during that day, there is the list. The thing, the next thing and the next.
No thinking and no despair.
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