Quotations on Melancholy



When I go musing all alone,

Thinking of divers things

When I build castles in the air,

Void of sorrow and void of fear,

Pleasing myself with phantasms sweet

Methinks the time runs very fleet.

All my joys to this are folly,

Naught so sweet as melancholy.


When I lie waking all alone,

Recounting what I have ill done,

My thoughts on me then tyrannise,

Fear and sorrow me surprise,

Whether I tarry still or go,

Methinks the time moves very slow.

All my griefs to this are jolly,

Naught so sad as melancholy.


When to myself I act and smile,

With pleasing thoughts the time beguile.

By a brook side or wood so green,

Unheard, unsought for, or unseen,

A thousand pleasures do me bless,

And crown my soul with happiness.

All my joys besides are folly,

None so sweet as melancholy.

–Burton’s Proem, “The Author’s Abstract of Melancholy”


Rosalind: They say you are a melancholy fellow.

Jaques: I am so; I do love it better than laughing.

Shakespeare, As You Like It


The melancholy days are come, the saddest of the year,

Of wailing winds, and naked woods, and meadows brown and sear.

–William Cullen Bryant


How bittersweet it is, on winter's night,

To listen, by the sputtering, smoking fire,

As distant memories, through the fog-dimmed light,

Rise, to the muffled chime of churchbell choir.

-Charles Baudelaire, “The Cracked Bell”


… it is melancholia that becomes his Muse.

Nerval to Alexandre Dumas


 The pupil dilates in darkness and in the end finds light, just as the soul dilates in misfortune and in the end finds God.

Victor Hugo, Les Misérables


Melancholy is a twilight state; suffering melts into it and becomes a somber joy. Melancholy is the pleasure of being sad.  

Victor Hugo, Toilers of the Sea


One heels suffering only by experiencing it to the full.

Marcel Proust


So don't be frightened, dear friend, if a sadness confronts you larger than any you have ever known, casting its shadow over all you do. You must think that something is happening within you, and remember that life has not forgotten you; it holds you in its hand and will not let you fall. Why would you want to exclude from your life any uneasiness, any pain, any depression, since you don't know what work they are accomplishing within you?

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


How should we be able to forget those ancient myths that are at the beginning of all peoples, the myths about dragons that at the last moment turn into princesses; perhaps all the dragons of our lives are princesses who are only waiting to see us once beautiful and brave. Perhaps everything terrible is in its deepest being something helpless that wants help from us. . . . So you must not be frightened if a sadness rises up before you larger than any you have ever seen; if a restiveness, like light and cloudshadows, passes over your hands and over all you do. You must think that something is happening with you, that life has not forgotten you, that it holds you in its hand; it will not let you fall. Why do you want to shut out of your life any uneasiness, any miseries, or any depressions? For after all, you do not know what work these conditions are doing inside you.

Rainer Maria Rilke, Letters to a Young Poet


. . . illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the healthy point of view.

 –Andre Gide


My melancholy wants to rest in the hiding places and abysses of perfection: that is why I

need music.



In a dark time, the eye begins to see.

Theodore Roethke


I know why I am sad, but I do not know why I am melancholy.

E.M. Cioran, On the Heights of Despair


This there is no sun without shadow, and it is essential to know the night.

Albert Camus, The Myth of Sisyphus


I thought the most beautiful thing in the world must be shadow, the million moving shapes and cul-de-sacs of shadow. There was shadow in bureau drawers and closets and suitcases, and shadow under houses and trees and stones, and shadow at the back of people's eyes and smiles, and shadow, miles and miles and miles of it, on the night side of the earth.

Sylvia Plath, The Bell Jar


If you desire healing,

let yourself fall ill

let yourself fall ill.



The psyche does not exist without pathologizing. . . . We try to follow the soul wherever it leads, trying to learn what the imagination is doing in its madness. . . . Pathologizing is a way of mythologizing—of “Soul-making.” . . . the soul’s very being, a source of whose native insight is its native pathology. . . .

–Dr. James Hillman


The soul-making of pathology has its distinct flavor, salty, bitter; it 'skins alive,' 'wounds,' 'bleeds,' making us excruciatingly sensitive to the movements of the psyche . . . .  The soul sees by means of affliction. Illness opens doors to a reality which remains closed to the healthy point of view. . . . The soul's native insight is its native pathology. . . . Jung said that soul moves at the weak point, where the personality is thin, where things are not secure and stable. That's where soul has an entry. We need those vulnerable points. In this respect, even getting into serious trouble--with hallucinations and emotional breakdowns and so forth-can be seen as a soul movement.

 –Dr. James Hillman


Our falling apart is an imaginal process, like the collapse of cities and the fall of heroes in mythical tales—like the dismemberment of Dionysian loosening which releases from overtight constraint, like the dissolution and decay in alchemy. . . . Only when things fall apart do they open up into new meanings . . . .The soul moves, via the pathologized fantasy of disintegration. . . . Falling apart makes possible a new style of reflection within the psyche . . . . Only when things fall apart do they open up into new meanings . . . .

–Dr. James Hillman


But the breakdown is to be made into a breakthrough. To be is to be vulnerable. The defense mechanisms, the character-armor, is to protect from life. Frailty alone is human; a broken, a ground-up (contrite) heart. . . .  Open is broken. There is no breakthrough without breakage. . . . It is not true unless it hurts.

– N. O. Brown


There is no imagination that is not overtly, or secretly, melancholy.

Julia Kristeva, Black Sun: Depression and Melancholia


 For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome possession of me. If it was sad, the tone of mind which this induced was also sweet. Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced in it.

Joseph Sheridan Le Fanu, Carmilla


 If someone told me that I could live my life again free of depression provided I was willing to give up the gifts depression has given me--the depth of awareness, the expanded consciousness, the increased sensitivity, the awareness of limitation, the tenderness of love, the meaning of friendship, the appreciation of life, the joy of a passionate heart--I would say, This is a Faustian bargain! Give me my depressions. Let the darkness descend. But do not take away the gifts that depression, with the help of some unseen hand, has dredged up from the deep ocean of my soul and strewn along the shores of my life. I can endure darkness if I must; but I cannot lie without these gifts. I cannot live without my soul.

David Elkins, Beyond Religion: A Personal Program for Building a Spiritual Life Outside the Walls of Traditional Religion


Because that’s the thing about depression. When I feel it deeply, I don’t want to let it go. It becomes a comfort. I want to cloak myself under its heavy weight and breathe it into my lungs. I want to nurture it, grow it, cultivate it. It’s mine. I want to check out with it, drift asleep wrapped in its arms and not wake up for a long, long time.

Stephanie Perkins, Lola and the Boy Next Door


It's not all bad. Heightened self-consciousness, apartness, an inability to join in, physical shame and self-loathing—they are not all bad. Those devils have been my angels. Without them I would never have disappeared into language, literature, the mind, laughter and all the mad intensities that made and unmade me.

Stephen Fry, Moab Is My Washpot


I'll never forget how the depression and loneliness felt good and bad at the same time. Still does.

Henry Rollins, The Portable Henry Rollins


The soulless have no need of melancholia.

Vladimir Odoyevsky, The Salamander and Other Gothic Tales


If someone asks you how you are, you are meant to say FINE. You are not meant to say that you cried yourself to sleep last night because you hadn't spoken to another person for two consecutive days. FINE is what you say.

Gail Honeyman, Eleanor Oliphant Is Completely Fine


 In every way that counted, I was dead. Inside somewhere maybe I was screaming and weeping and howling like an animal, but that was another person deep inside, another person who had no access to the lips and face and mouth and head, so on the surface I just shrugged and smile and kept moving. If I could have physically passed away, just let it all go, like that, without doing anything, stepped out of life as easily as walking through a door I would have done. But I was going to sleep at night and waking in the morning, disappointed to be there and resigned to existence.

Neil Gaiman, Fragile Things: Short Fictions and Wonders


Melancholia is, I believe, a musical problem: a dissonance, a change in rhythm. While on the outside everything happens with the vertiginous rhythm of a cataract, on the inside is the exhausted adagio of drops of water falling from time to tired time. For this reason the outside, seen from the melancholic inside, appears absurd and unreal, and constitutes ‘the farce we all must play’. But for an instant – because of a wild music, or a drug, or the sexual act carried to its climax – the very slow rhythm of the melancholic soul does not only rise to that of the outside world: it overtakes it with an ineffably blissful exorbitance, and the soul then thrills animated by delirious new energies.

Alejandra Pizarnik


I miss you in waves and tonight I’m drowning. You left me fending for my life and it feels like you’re the only one who can bring me back to the shore alive.

Denice Envall