This week is Mental Health Awareness Week (MHAW) in New Zealand.
While definitions, descriptions and various other attempts to somehow distinguish healthy from unhealthy mind have changed over the centuries; creative artists of all creeds have remained the main recipients.
British poet Roddy Lumsden wrote that; ‘a poet confessing to mental illness is like a weight lifter admitting to muscles’.
Popular stereotype has long classified poets as depressed and creative scientist as mad. The notion that there is a direct link between creativity and madness reaches as far back as Aristotle when he wrote that eminent philosophers, politicians, poets and artists all have tendencies towards ‘melancholia’.
Numerous examples of famous creative minds inhabiting mysterious halls, which those looking from the outside termed mental illnesses, followed throughout history; from Isaac Newton, Ludwig van Beethoven, Leo Tolstoy, Robert Schumann, Vincent van Gogh, to Virginia Woolf, Ernest Hemingway, John Nash, Sylvia Plath … to mentioned just a few.
Poets seems especially apt inhabitants; Emily Dickinson stated that ‘Much madness is Divinest sense’, while Edgar Allan Poe wrote; ‘Men have called me mad but the question is not yet settled, whether madness is or is not the loftiest intelligence.’
They, and many others, pierced the darkness with the shiniest torches of them all – those of art. And in doing so illuminated many winding and precarious roads humans travel on.
Were they mad or just exceptionally gifted? Is the former prerequisite for the later? Or is it the other way around – writing poetry drives one to madness?
And what is madness anyway? Does anyone really know where the illusive line that differentiates between healthy and unhealthy mind lies?
I know not … there are numerous serious doctors, psychoanalysts, and scientist preoccupied with this topic. They inevitably develop ever newer terminologies, classifications and drugs to go with it. To soothe and numb one’s minds sufficiently to function amongst the healthy, normal population.
The same healthy, normal population that starts bloody wars, tolerates corrupt leaderships, inflicts devastating cruelties, and otherwise tortures the fellow humans.
Really, I know not … all I can do is just to write few lines … and so here they go:
She does not write poetry often
I do not write poetry often, she said. We were sitting on the bare concrete steps, still warm from the early summer sun.
Why don’t you?
Oh it hurts too much, she said. It makes me ill.
Longing in my limbs throbs with aching, and
Ocean becomes too heavy in my eyes.
Just walking the whole night alone,
Over the stones, and shingle and sand,
Into those graves unnamed,
Where birch trees grove tall and lonely.
It hurts too much.
What do you write then?
Anything, anything at all … but not poetry.