Melancholy and Grace

By E. Wagele from "The Career Within You"

By E. Wagele from “The Career Within You”

This blog, describing a trait some Enneagram type 4-Romantics have, is based on The Case for Melancholy by Laren Stover, NY Times, 11-7-15:

“Whatever happened to experiencing the grace of melancholy, which requires reflection: a sort of mental steeping, like tea?

Melancholy, distinguished from grief, is not caused by events, like losing your job, the passing of beloved pets, your miscarriages or health problems. Nor does it vanish when you receive excellent news, like a big film star optioning your novel, or being invited to an all-expenses-paid trip to Venice for the Biennale.

Melancholy is more … ephemeral. It visits you like a mist, a vapor, a fog. It is generally uninvited. And as some people are born into royalty, wealth and prestige, others inherit a disposition for sadness.

While my childhood twinkled with stories and fantasies about elves and fairies despite my unhappy surroundings, my teenage years were a mixture of artistic ennui and dark poetic depression… By the time I got to my third high school, I was feeling pretty alienated. I was determined not to make any friends but instead to commune with trees, to feel their spirits. I walked along lonely train tracks behind our house and had morbid thoughts and wrote papers that began “I cannot watch another gray dawn awaken…” (Melancholy often shares the stage with melodrama.)

My English teacher singled me out for independent study, during which I wrote existential essays and did tortured paintings. I befriended an even more ethereal sprite named Erica, who wore her hair with numerous long ribbons tied at the roots, not in jaunty bows but dangling languidly like weeping tendrils, like a sort of mourning embellishment. She wore long dresses or pastel corduroy pants rolled up as if she were about to go wading in a stream, and always a fox stole pinned to her shoulder. She carried around a jar of ink and wrote all her assignments with a calligraphy pen, translating Latin phrases such as “O the dreaded Cypress trees of death … ” She read my poems, she instigated sneaking out of the window in the independent study room to escape to the Smithsonian Institution to watch old movies. She didn’t think I was a weirdo because I loved bats. She never told me to “smile,” or “cheer up.” She saved my life.

Sadness has a bad reputation. But I soon came to feel that melancholy—the word itself is late Latin from the Greek melancholia—is a word with a romantic Old World ring, with a transient beauty like the ring around the moon. We know this from John Keats’s “Ode on Melancholy”: “But when the melancholy fit shall fall/Sudden from heaven like a weeping cloud … /She dwells with Beauty—Beauty that must die…”

I felt less alone in my yearnings when I saw this posting on a fragrance blog: “Lately I’ve been feeling a bit down, well down right depressed, to tell you the truth. 🙁 Could you please suggest some perfumes that reflect my mood? I don’t want any pick-me-up scents, because this sadness is something I need to experience to get on with my life.”

Happiness, like the sun, is ridiculously bright, a hope you can never live up to, or even look at straight on.

Should melancholy descend, you may as well welcome it, wear your finest lounging outfit; give it your finest fainting couch or chaise to lounge in, or that hammock stretched between two elm trees. Let it settle in.

I want moonlight.”


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