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Tuesday, May 29, 2007

GM Hopkins and depression

Although I've been feeling pretty depressed lately with Kermit so ill, I've actually been depressed off and on for most of my life, so I thought I'd post more on that article I mentioned earlier about Jesuit GM Hopkins - The Terrible Sonnets of Gerard Manley Hopkins and the Spirituality of Depression by Hilary E. Pearson (The Way). The article is long and complex, but here's a bit of it below ....


The 'Sonnets of Desolation' or 'Terrible Sonnets' of Gerard Manley Hopkins are a group of untitled poems probably written during 1885-1886 ..... There are six poems, usually referred to by their opening words, as: 'To Seem the Stranger', 'I Wake and Feel', 'No Worst', 'Carrion Comfort', 'Patience, Hard Thing' and 'My Own Heart'. Not all commentators believe that Hopkins was suffering from depression when he wrote them, but the evidence seems strong that he was .....

Anyone who suffers from depression tends to think that they are abnormal. Depressed Christians are liable to think that their experience is a sign that there is something wrong with them spiritually, for surely depression is not a 'normal' part of the Christian experience. Aren't we supposed to 'rejoice always'? The belief that this is an abnormal experience leads to feelings of guilt and self-loathing. Sufferers feel that they are losing their faith. Suicidal thought are particularly distressing to those Christians who have been taught that self-destruction is a serious sin, adding to their guilt and self-hatred ....

There are many definitions of spirituality, but they have in common an emphasis on experience and practice in the search for God. For many people suffering from depression, who often have low self-esteem, spirituality depends on their answers to questions about whether they have any relation to God at all, whether God has interest in them and whether they can do anything to reach out to him. Hopkins gives the sufferer from depression help in finding answers to these questions.

First, all the poems show that Hopkins maintained some kind of relationship with God: indeed that is their common theme. The real issue is what kind of relationship this was; for this, we must look at the answer to the second question. As we have seen, these poems and others seem to reveal a relationship with a distant, stern God: a hard taskmaster who must be obeyed. Even in Hopkins' happiest poems, such as 'Hurrahing in Harvest', the imagery is still of remote majesty. I suspect that many depressives have a similar image of God; here Hopkins stands primarily as an example of what has gone wrong in depression .....

Hopkins also provides practical help for those seeking to escape depression. It is valuable advice to treat yourself kindly:

My own heart let me more have pity on; let
Me live to my sad self hereafter kind,
Charitable; not live this tormented mind
With this tormented mind tormenting yet.
I cast for comfort I can no more get
By groping round my comfortless, than blind
Eyes in their dark can day or thirst can find
Thirst 's all-in-all in all a world of wet.

Soul, self; come, poor Jackself, I do advise
You, jaded, let be; call off thoughts awhile
Elsewhere; leave comfort root-room; let joy size
At God knows when to God knows what; whose smile
's not wrung, see you; unforeseen times rather - as skies
Betweenpie mountains - lights a lovely mile.

...... We can also learn from the negative side of Hopkins' experience. Those who have difficulty accepting that God loves them unconditionally, as Hopkins seems to have done, are likely to have low self-esteem, which is an indicator for depression. And an effective remedy for the low self-esteem that characterizes most depressives is belief and acceptance that God does love them unconditionally - something that requires an openness to God but can only be given by God's grace.

Despite a century of study, there is still a stigma attached to depression and it is rarely understood by those who have not suffered it ...... Anthony Clare, a practicing psychiatrist, stresses 'the importance of having someone who is there, prepared to listen, willing to support, able to indicate he or she understands'. If nothing else, Hopkins' poems tell sufferers that someone has been in the same situation before them. For Christians, Hopkins shows that even dedicated servants of Christ can suffer depression. While the sense that he had achieved nothing remained, 'birds build - but not I build' ('Justus'), Hopkins was strengthened by the knowledge that Christ too 'was doomed to succeed by failure' ........



Blogger Susan said...

Well, that was depressing. :-)

6:53 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Then my work here is done :-)

11:21 PM  
Blogger PamBG said...

Prayers and support for your depression and for Kermit.

10:39 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks, Pam.

12:52 PM  
Blogger Jeff said...

"Why don't you just give me a paper cut and poor lemon juice onto it?"
-- Miracle Max, in The Princess Bride

Feel better, Crys.

Hopkins was strengthened by the knowledge that Christ too 'was doomed to succeed by failure'

Interesting. They should make a movie about GMH with Jeremy Irons, the King of Angst, walking around looking morose and forlorn...

1:26 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Or maybe Colin Farrell ... what you posted on your blog reminded me of that movie The New World. He was pretty morose and forlorn in that :-)

2:36 PM  
Blogger Rachi said...

Thanks for posting Crystal- hope you dont mind I put another link in :)

I will keep you and Kermit in my prayers
God Bless
love Rachel xoxo

2:57 PM  
Blogger Cura Animarum said...

I went through a pretty dark time in highschool. Man, the poems I wrote back then, I'm surprised I wasn't locked up somewhere in suicide watch. ;o)

The oddest and most surprising thing cracked it for me. A serious accident I was in (combination of a 1/2 ton truck and a large group of kids horsing around...not good!). I wound up in a ditch, alone, holding a young boy I didn't know while he died.

It's one of those things you expect to change you I guess but never did I expect it to do what it did. To this day I have never even come close to understanding it but I began to see things in a very different light. I fought it, it made me mad at first. How dare I start feeling better about myself, my life, my worth at such a cost!

Still I couldn't deny it. Almost overnight I had gone from pre-suicidal brooding teen, to an incurable optomist. I'm sure it borders on dysfunctional sometimes (My LW who is 'the sensible one' often thinks so).

I don't know why I've decided to share that here except that its a weird thing that hapened to change my outlook in an unexpected way.

Sometimes on the anniversary of his death I offer a prayer of thanks for changing - perhaps saving - my life. It was truly remarkable, but I wouldn't recommend that kind of a 'cure' to anyone else.

Though I'd bet that if you were to go barrelling down a dirt road in a half-ton at night...something similar would happen..probably a lot faster too! (that's just a sad attempt a humor...I hope you don't have access to a truck!)

2:57 PM  
Blogger Deacon Denny said...

I had some dark days in my late teens and early twenties, and I don't wish those on anyone. However, it was a very creative time -- I wrote more poetry then than at any other time in my life.

Speaking for myself, I really enjoy your writing, your gentle humor, and much more. It also seems that you have a lot of good friends in cyberspace. I don't know you well enough to know if or how much your depression might be connected to your creativity. Bausch wrote a really good book called "Weeds Among the Wheat," about the way the really wonderful parts of ourselves are often interwoven around the difficult parts -- just like the parable.

Anyway, I do wish you well, and I hope you can treat yourself as kindly as you treat those of us who enjoy and respond to your posts.

9:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Rachi,

do you attend Monash University? I had a post a while back about Dr. Nick Trakakis, a professor there :-)

12:25 AM  
Blogger crystal said...


I appreciate you sharing something so personl. It's hard to imagine what such an experience must have been like. I think it would be a very special person who could come away from that changed for the better rather than worse.

No, no trucks at my disposal, which is a good thing given my driving skills.

12:47 AM  
Blogger crystal said...

Hi Denny,

Thanks for the kind words. When I feel badly, I don't want to write at all, just curl up on the floor and stare at the light bulb, counting the endless moments of my tortured existence ;-) That mood is pretty self-absorbed, mean-spirited, and sterile.

1:08 AM  
Blogger Rachi said...

Hi Crystal
yep, I am a Monash girl :) I haven't come across Nick though- I am science, so don't really know many arts people. I did read and enjoy that post too :)

and I know how you feel- when I am depressed, I tend to just climb into bed and not want to do anything. I struggle to do anything, even the things that I would otherwise enjoy, when like that.

it's hard to force oneself out of it to do something, but it is better to do something than nothing.
this is where my faith in God helps me :)

anyway, greetings from cold Melbourne and Monash uni :)
take care and God Bless
love Rachel xoxo

2:38 PM  
Blogger crystal said...

Thanks Rachel :-)

3:41 PM  

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