Thursday, February 18, 2010

Sad Poems

Good article from the Smart Set about sad poetry.

"When a good poem captures sadness, it reminds us of the times we’ve been sad, whether after a death, a failed romance, or even no dessert; of when we’ve been more humble, more understanding and open, more certain that we would never want anybody to feel sad in any way, ever."

I had been thinking about this for a while-- the fact that I am not able to relax without being depressed, because I associate relaxation with poetry, and poetry with depressing themes. I guess it doesn't help if Franz Wright is one of my favorite poets, and his work is mostly about suicide, it seems...

But I guess it's not such a bad thing after all. Apparently reading sad poetry activates the parasympathetic nervous system, aiding digestion and slowing down heart rate... definitely something I need since my stress level is on a permanent "fight or flight" stage.

I've read this poem before, but it's still one of the saddest and most gentle things:


Sundays too my father got up early
and put his clothes on in the blueblack cold
then with cracked hands that ached
from labor in the weekday weather made
banked fires blaze. No one ever thanked him.

I’d wake and hear the cold splintering, breaking.
When the rooms were warm, he’d call,
and slowly I would rise and dress,
fearing the chronic angers of that house,

Speaking indifferently to him,
who had driven out the cold
and polished my good shoes as well.
What did I know, what did I know
of love’s austere and lonely offices?

-Robert Hayden

2 comments:

F.W. said...

My dear Julia, I was very distressed to hear that my poems are mainly about suicide, and think you might want to take another look through my ten or eleven books, I think you might be surprised. There are a few on that subject, granted. But I am far more interested in speaking so personally about darker experiences and emotions that I break through into something universal enough to make someone else who is suffering in some way feel that they are not alone. And I have to tell you, the idea that there is something intrinsically appalling about anyone ever being sad is one of the most bizarre things I have ever heard. How might the eradication of sadness be accomplished on a planet of mortal beings? And have you given any consideration, when you look at your own life, to the more positive aspects of sadness. Personally, after nearly fifty-seven years, when I look back, so often things I considered wonderful, happy,etc. led to disappointment and even disaster, whereas the the many times I found myself to be completely lost where the ones that eventually led me to precisely where I want to be. I really think you are going to notice this more and more, and be a little more trusting when it comes to the apparently unbearable things in life. The most important thing is to accept their inevitability, and to overcome your fear of them. I believe God's will is sometimes precisely the opposite of what we think of as happiness. Suffering has a purpose. It can also lead to change, growth, redemption. Can there be beauty or any sense of poignancy to things without our awareness that everything is going to be lost to us one day. If you take away death, you take resurrection away too.

Olivia said...

I remember the Robert Hayden poem from high school, but I'd forgotten the name of the poem and poet. It really is sad without even trying. It also reminds me of how much a debt a person can owe. And how unwanted that debt can be.