Posted by: Harold Knight | 10/15/2009

Sadness is sometimes the sum

Give Himmaleh---

Give Himmaleh---

This sadness seldom arrives with a grand gesture. Rather, this sadness wells up from a place so secret I cannot, in retrospect, identify it, revealing itself slowly, so slowly that I become sensitized to it before realizing that it has become, once again, a part of me. By the time I comprehend that this sadness has overtaken me, it has once again become part of the fabric of me, has pushed other emotions out, the time has passed to prevent it from taking over my thinking (or at least my conscious feelings).

People who quote poetry to explain their feelings bother me. I don’t understand poetry. I don’t know how quoting another’s expression of feelings can be authentic. But now and again I’m left to appropriate others’ words because I can’t find my own.

Yet now despair itself is mild,
Even as the winds and waters are;
I could lie down like a tired child,
And weep away the life of care
Which I have born and yet must bear,
Till death like sleep might steal on me,
And I might feel in the warm air
My cheek grow cold, and hear the sea
Breathe o’er my dying brain its last monotony.
                    –from “Stanzas Written In Dejection.” Percy Bysshe Shelly

I like Shelly. He packed so much anti-social behavior into one short lifetime. Eloped when he was a teenager, left her for another woman and married the second after the first committed suicide. Wikipedia, fount of all knowledge: “He was admired by Karl Marx… George Bernard Shaw, Bertrand Russell, Isadora Duncan…” To be admired by Karl Marx and Isadora Duncan and drown at thirty years old. He was a reprobate, personally and publically. His inlaws convinced the courts to take away his children because he was an unfit parent, yet Ghandi quoted him as one of the spokesmen for radical reform.

The Poet

The Poet

Perhaps I’m depresive because I read long ago, “Yet now despair itself is mild” and took it in as part of my self-identification.

This writing is stilted. It’s difficult to write about my sadness when I am not sad. When I’m sad, the writing is a jumble no one can understand. I am not sad this morning, I think. I don’t know because I don’t feel anything. Yesterday in my office during my break between classes, I cried. A few tears. No sobs. I had to move my car because I was in two-hour parking. The city put up two-hour parking signs on the street where I’ve parked for ten years. I had to park on a side street four blocks from my office. I refuse to pay the university for parking. I can’t afford it. It’s an insult to faculty. A colleague left us for a position at a Dallas County Community College. They GIVE faculty not only Dart Rail passes, but also parking allowances (and salaries higher than our presitigious university pays). I had to move my car and walk back to my office. I was furious, having a conversation in my head, first with an undifferentiated university functionary and then with colleagues who prentend to understand (and write scholarly papers about) Shelley but would never go on strike or take any other civilly disobedient action to force the university to treat us professionally. They can analyse Shelley’s poetry, but they don’t understand him.

I was furious when I got back to my office. I let that go because a student from last year arrived to ask me to write a recommendation for his new program. My sister called because she and I can tell each other our frustrations and sorrows when we can’t tell anyone else (she had another emotionally draining experience with our aged father). I don’t remember what else happened, but soon I was crying.

Go ahead, say it. I know what you’re thinking. All of that taken together when I need to rest and recuperate from my morning classes and prepare for my afternoon classes is understandably enough to make anyone want to cry. I’m no different from anyone else. But how many grown-ups would cry? All of you? And later after a good dinner and four hour’s conversation with a good who’s moving away, and I drive home the long to avoid the newly increased toll, and I cry all the way home after our jolly time.

I can wade Grief—
Whole Pools of it—
I’m used to that—
But the least push of Joy
Breaks up my feet—
And I tip—drunken—
Let no Pebble—smile—
‘Twas the New Liquor—
That was all!

Power is only Pain—
Stranded, thro’ Discipline,
Till Weights—will hang—
Give Balm—to Giants—
And they’ll wilt, like Men—
Give Himmaleh—
They’ll Carry—Him!
              –Emily Dickinson

This morning I don’t know what to feel. I have so much work to do that anyone who is not an idiot would cry facing my day. A set of papers to finish grading that I’ve postponed until I can’t possibly get them done by the time the students need them. My car is unregistered and there is warrant out for my arrest, and I don’t have the money to fix the situation (what do people do who really DON’T have the money to fix such situations?). I have three appointments at three o’clock this afternoon—do I help a student, see my therapist, or keep my appointment with my neurologist? Neurologist.

Power is only pain stranded through discipline till weights will hang. Give balm to giants and they’ll wilt like men. I have to do this. Write, that is. The thought that I might post it for the whole world to see motivates me to make sense. Usually my hypergraphic writing doesn’t. But I should be grading papers or doing my part to put the church bulletin for Sunday together, and I have to do this.

Why don’t I let one of those gurus of organization help me get my life together so I won’t have all of these details hanging like weights, stranded through discipline. I defy anyone to decipher, “And they’ll wilt, like Men—Give Himmaleh—They’ll Carry—Him!” What do the Himalayas have to do with grief. I don’t know. But I wilt.

Sadness is the sum

Sadness is the sum

Normal people think that I make my own bed where (let’s mix up all the metaphors) “the least push of joy breaks up my feet,” so I simply have to lie in it. Or they think my taking Mr. Covey to heart would solve most of my problems. Or they say dwelling on my misery makes me miserable. I’m not going to say that none of those understandings is incorrect. I’m simply undisciplined and looking for excuses to let my life go to hell. But “by the time I comprehend that this sadness has overtaken me, has once again become part of the fabric of me… the time has passed to prevent it from taking over my thinking.” The sadness, the whole pools of grief precede the “problems.”

Am I making this up? Probably. My tears are self-pity, not a manifestation of seizures or bipolar disorder or pure unwillingness to change. I love being miserable. I won’t carry that thought to its logical conclusion because someone will come and cart me away. Permanent solutions to temporary problems.



  1. Tremendous writing there “I’m not Crazy!” As an English Major I appreciate excellent writing. My question to you is this, and I ask humbly: “Are there people in your life you need to forgive, as well as yourself?” I wasn’t able to heal until I did so. Just a thought!


  2. Take a look at GM Hopkins’ so called Terrible Sonnets, written at the peak of his despair.
    There are references here to mountains, peaks and valleys that might shed light on Dickinson’s words.



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