“Besides my numerous circle of acquaintances, I have one more intimate confidant – my melancholy… My melancholy is the most faithful mistress I have known…” Soren Kierkegaard
The word “melancholy” is no longer used much these days, sad to say. So exactly what does the word mean? There is no exact answer but here are my ruminations and reflections on this under-used, misunderstood word.
Melancholy is a particular species of sadness. It isn’t an illness or a mental problem – it’s just part of the human condition. Melancholy tends to involve the pleasure of reflection and contemplation of the things we love, lost or long for. The author, Susan Sontag, says: “Depression is melancholy minus its charms.”
The word that best describes melancholy is the word “missingness,” if that indeed is a word. Missingness is a longing for an absent something. It is a momentary emptiness and a combination of sadness and perhaps even some happiness. Missingness or melancholy is a wistful longing and yearning for the return of something gone.
On the day I wrote this blog, I was listening to the Righteous Brothers,’ “Unchained Melody.” I longed to be in my old friend’s living room when we were thirteen. Bob would sing along with these “Blue-Eyed Soul” brothers and I swear he could switch from tenor to low base with elegant ease just like the duo could. It was a sight and sound to be held close to my heart but without depression, just melancholy missingness. Bob has been gone now for a long time.
While melancholy is no substitute for feelings of sorrow, sadness, grief, or loss, it does carry some amount of energy and creativity for me whereas depression is exhausting. It has always been the midnight oil I burn so I can write. Melancholy is a kind of white magic that allows artists to paint, sculpt, play music – listen sometimes to Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings and let the melancholy wash over you.
Lastly, too much solitude can cause melancholy (“Saturday night and I ain’t got nobody…” Sam Cooke) and sometimes my melancholy aches for solitude and if I don’t find it, it can turn into loneliness.
Melancholy is my speed-of-light time machine into the past and my path into my more creative self where I can yearn, become wistful and comforted.
“I can barely conceive of a type of beauty in which there is no melancholy.” Charles Baudelaire