Three Meditations on Melancholy

The section “Qui sedes ad dexteram patris” from Bach’s Mass in B minor has always seemed like the sonic version of melancholy to me. Here is a clip from YouTube

I have to confess that I did not realize the part was to be sung by a man. If that’s distracting, just close your eyes as you listen.

The verbal equivalent of Melancholy for me is Keats’ Ode to Autumn

Season of mists and mellow fruitfulness!
Close bosom-friend of the maturing sun;
Conspiring with him how to load and bless
With fruit the vines that round the thatch-eaves run;
To bend with apples the mossed cottage-trees,
And fill all fruit with ripeness to the core;
To swell the gourd, and plump the hazel shells
With a sweet kernel; to set budding more,
And still more, later flowers for the bees,
Until they think warm days will never cease,
For Summer has o’erbrimmed their clammy cells.

Who hath not seen thee oft amid thy store?
Sometimes whoever seeks abroad may find
Thee sitting careless on a granary floor,
Thy hair soft-lifted by the winnowing wind;
Or on a half-reaped furrow sound asleep,
Drowsed with the fume of poppies, while thy hook
Spares the next swath and all its twined flowers;
And sometimes like a gleaner thou dost keep
Steady thy laden head across a brook;
Or by a cider-press, with patient look,
Thou watchest the last oozings, hours by hours.

Where are the songs of Spring? Ay, where are they?
Think not of them, thou hast thy music too, –
While barred clouds bloom the soft-dying day
And touch the stubble-plains with rosy hue;
Then in a wailful choir the small gnats mourn
Among the river sallows, borne aloft
Or sinking as the light wind lives or dies;
And full-grown lambs loud bleat from hilly bourn;
Hedge-crickets sing, and now with treble soft
The redbreast whistles from a garden-croft;
And gathering swallows twitter in the skies.

“Swell the gourd and plump the hazel nuts.”
“Drowsed with the fume of poppies.”

I really cannot think of anyone who exceeds Keats in placing the reader into a reverie.

And of course, the visual representation of Melancholy is Durer’s woodcut.

For a good interpretation of Melancholia, go here.

The calendar reads Spring, but it’s an on-again off-again drizzly day and I’ve been imbibing Father Johann as the rain falls.

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