I claim that melancholy occurs not when we lose the object, but precisely when the object is here but we lose the desire for it. This is why modern philosophical subject cogito is deeply melancholic. Everything is here, but you no longer desire it. And so I claim that this is the enigma of modernity. It’s not some kind of protestant ethics which prohibits I don’t know what. It’s that you lose desire, and prohibitions come—precisely a desperate, secondary attempt to resuscitate desire.
The gods envy us. They envy us because we’re mortal, because any moment may be our last. Everything is more beautiful because we’re doomed. You will never be lovelier than you are now. We will never be here again.
Some of our quietest moments lay either side of thunder.
Around us, lightning lit all—we were there to see it.
Our back porch stretched out into the middle of shooting stars,
and we felt a little bit of breath go out on each trail.
I still have this pain that falls through the entire night sky
in my shoulder, where, when the thunder has stopped,
your head has lain on my arm fro twenty-five years.
I am taking bolts of lightning to cure it, and the space
around the thunder is a cure. But I wish on every star,
falling or not, that it isn’t taken from me here.
— Marvin Bell,
closing strophe to “Song for a Little Bit of Breath,” from The Bread Loaf Anthology of Contemporary American Poetry
(University Press of New England, 1985)
I shall die like a cloud, beautiful, white, full of nothingness.
— Charles Wright,
from “Ars Poetica II,” in Appalachia
(Farrar, Straus, and Giroux, 1998)
I kissed her. Her flesh felt cold, pale, soft. I thought of nuns who have prayed all night in cold churches … All her warmth and colour and passion, she had offered up in prayer, in cold, ancient churches. She was chill, severe, pale; the light flickered in her raised eyes like the light of candles; her skirt was worn shiny over her peaked knees; she smelled faintly of incense. (But still, I haven’t said what I wanted to say.)
Once A Great Love
Once a great love cut my life in two.
The first part goes on twisting
at some other place like a snake cut in two.
The passing years have calmed me
and brought healing to my heart and rest to my eyes.
And I’m like someone standing in the Judean desert, looking at a sign:
He cannot see the sea, but he knows.
Thus I remember your face everywhere
at your ‘face Level.’
—Yehuda Amichai, from
From the perspective of personal experience, a place is not a monument until we return to it. To serve its mnemonic function we must visit it at least twice. We must first have the experience of that place, after which time must intervene in fading our recall of that first exposure. When returning, we relive our memories of the first visit, enhanced by the full vividness of the place where we first lived it. The mnemonic function of places fills the holes in our fragmentary recollections.
— Jorge Otero-Pailos,
from “Mnemonic Value and Historic Preservation,” in Spatial Recall: Memory in Architecture and Landscape,
ed. Marc Treib (Routledge, 2009)
I miss you in the most beautiful way, in a way that is painful. Like wanting to visit mountains, only you are more than mountains, more than streams and trees and all things wonderful. You are the ache that my heart feels, you are the tremble in my hand. You are the unspoken whisper that lingers in my ear just before I fall asleep. You are poetry and music, you float and dance around me; leaving me in a constant state of thinking about you.
You are the shaky inhale I get when my heart longs for you. You are the tear in my eye that never leaves, only rests on the edges of my eye lashes. You are the silence of a room, when depth and concentration enters, as shallow thoughts flee.
You are an embrace that I long to have, a kiss that I want to experience and a road that I want to travel on.
It is painful, waiting for you, and I miss you; but in the most beautiful way.
In the mountains of truth you will never climb in vain: either you will get up higher today or you will exercise your strength so as to be able to get up higher tomorrow.
— Friedrich Nietzsche, Human, All Too Human: A Book for Free Spirits
Some [individuals] have had a deep conviction of their destiny, and in that conviction has prospered; but when they cease to act as an instrument, and think of themselves as the active source of what they do, their pride is punished by disaster … The concept of destiny leaves us with a mystery, but it is a mystery not contrary to reason, for it implies that the world, and the course of human history, has meaning.
— T. S. Eliot,
as cited in the article “Rethinking Restriction: Creative Limitation as a Positive Force” by M. Allen Cunningham, Poets & Writers
There are trees and they are on fire. There are hummingbirds and they are on fire. There are graves and they are on fire and the things coming out of the graves are on fire. The house you grew up in is on fire. There is a gigantic trebuchet on fire on the edge of a crater and the crater is on fire. There is a complex system of tunnels deep underneath the surface with only one entrance and one exit and the entire system is filled with fire. There is a wooden cage we’re trapped in, too large to see, and it is on fire. There are jaguars on fire. Wolves. Spiders. Wolf-spiders on fire. If there were people. If our fathers were alive. If we had a daughter. Fire to the edges. Fire in the river beds. Fire between the mattresses of the bed you were born in. Fire in your mother’s belly. There is a little boy wearing a fire shirt holding a baby lamb. There is a little girl in a fire skirt asking if she can ride the baby lamb like a horse. There is you on top of me with thighs of fire while a hot red fog hovers in your hair. There is me on top of you wearing a fire shirt and then pulling the fire shirt over my head and tossing it like a fireball through the fog at a new kind of dinosaur. There are meteorites disintegrating in the atmosphere just a few thousand feet above us and tiny fireballs are falling down around us, pooling around us, forming a kind of fire lake which then forms a kind of fire cloud. There is this feeling I get when I am with you. There is our future house burning like a star on the hill. There is our dark flickering shadow. There is my hand on fire in your hand on fire, my body on fire above your body on fire, our tongues made of ash. We are rocks on a distant and uninhabitable planet. We have our whole life ahead of us.