One reason I did not do incredibly well in grad school was that I am not very good at writing about poetry. Honestly, I had a lot going on, but let’s blame poetry. I cannot write about a poem without killing it, like a real bloody mess, and afterwards the detective says that clearly the murderer had a personal relationship with the victim and was feeling a lot of rage. I mean I really destroyed some great poetry for myself and for whatever unfortunate professor was reading my papers. Even Tennyson. Tennyson is probably the easiest poet to write about, because he is really damned good and highly symbolic and all that. I did pick Tennyson’s weirdest, most disturbing poem to write about – “Maud.” If you have not read “Maud” – and you probably have not – you should look it up. It is like Tennyson turned into a schizophrenic stalker for a day and wrote a poem that probably should have gotten him committed. But it is also just so, so, so pretty. Such pretty words. Wait, did he just murder Maud? Oh wow, what a pretty line.
Another time when I tried to write about poetry, I wrote on Thomas Hardy’s Moments of Vision. That debacle deserves its very own blog entry.
But moving on.
The Anatomy of Melancholy opens with some silly poems: “Democritus Junior to His Book,” “The Argument of the Frontispiece” (in case you didn’t look at it I guess) and “The Author’s Abstract of Melancholy.” Typical of seventeenth and eighteenth century writers, Burton humbly disavows his work as this little book with legs that can walk away from him, like… really, honestly I had nothing at all to do with that thing. It is just off to do its own thing now on its own little book-legs. Nothing to do with me, tra-la-la. At the same time, he kind of says that he is writing the Best Book Ever with the Most Important Subject of All Time. That is just what they did in the olden days. Or you can be a PhD about it and try to make it all make sense, or argue that nothing makes sense and Burton is totally postmodern, or whatever. You know what my favorite line so far is?
“My periods are as rough as nutmeg graters.”
Sometimes I feel like that. I almost always feel like that when I write. Only in my case it is commas. If anyone is actually reading this “blog” – I apologize for my overuse of commas and often excessively long and convoluted sentences. I probably need more nutmeg graters.
Oh, and it is worth mentioning that Burton initially published The Anatomy anonymously using the name Democritus Junior. He was referencing Democritus, a pre-Socratic philosopher. Democritus was a scientific rationalist and more specifically an atomist, meaning he believed in atoms. Not everyone did back then.
This stanza is particularly uplifting:
I’ll change my state with any wretch,
Thou canst from gaol or dunghill fetch;
My pain’s past cure, another hell,
I may not in this torment dwell!
Now desperate I hate my life,
Lend me a halter or a knife;
All my griefs to this are jolly,
Naught so damn’d as melancholy.
It will get better from here, I promise.
Here is my picture for pages 1-13, have a nice day!