What Lies Between Storm and Shine

Cole_Thomas_The_Oxbow_(The_Connecticut_River_near_Northampton_1836)

The Oxbow – Thomas Cole (1836)

*See Note on the composition of this poem below.

What Lies Between Storm and Shine

For Eva and Eloise and those beloved who have departed to at last find peace.

 

So odd

I always thought

how light like a pacifist

drifts away on the winds

before the storm conquers the sky

and the sun surrenders its shine

or how barometric conflict

brings such beauty upon the earth.

 

Stranger still

that on this sphere

of light and shadow and motion

we should chance to live

dare to love

and so soon expire

knowing somewhere

between the agony

and the ecstasy

lies the stillness

for which we so languish

and so long

that conspires to persist

not in the storm’s absence

but in its midst.

© Jedidiah Paschall

I wrote this poem initially in November of 2001, shortly after 9/11 and the murder of a family member. During this tumultuous period I had also dropped out of college (for the first time) following a nervous breakdown, and I was battling bipolar disorder. I would not be diagnosed as manic-depressive for another two years, but the symptoms began presenting in 1999 when I was twenty and reached the first of several catastrophes that I have learned to navigate. The best I can describe living as manic-depressive is if someone were to imagine that they were riding a thoroughbred that is being chased by lightning on the edge of a razor; fall off the edge into the abysses of mania or depression and the whole cognitive-affective balance goes off the rails.

Anyway, aside from removing some mixed metaphors out of the original draft, this present edition is substantially unchanged from the original. I look back on this time in my life, which up to this point was the most prolific in my poetic journey the way a salty old prospector might scour a dry creek bed long after the storm abated – sure it was a snarled up mess, but there was a few precious stones in there as well. Lisel Mueller writes in her poem ‘Cirriculum Vitae’, The death of the mother hurt the daughter into poetry. The daughter became a mother of daughters. It is the incomprehensibility of grief that often drives us to the peculiar order of poetry – of course poetry is more than the sum of our pain, it is also the language of joy and love and hope and longing, but it is in the ability to apprehend the meaning of our scars that we learn to live with them. It was the pain of her mothers passing that made Mueller a mother of so many beautiful poems, and her experience not only as the mother of poems but also daughters became the thread that knit together the rich tapestry of her life’s work. In a very real sense she is my poetic mother, and as a reader I have been able to draw off of the wisdom, texture, color, and experience of her poetry to find my own voice.

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The Byronic Odyssey

Brooklyn_Museum_-_Sunset_at_Sea_-_Thomas_Moran_-_overall

Painting by Thomas Moran – Sunset at Sea (ca. 1906)

Adieu, adieu! my native shore

  Fades o’er the waters blue;

The night-winds sigh, the breakers roar,

  And shrieks the wild sea-mew.

Yon sun that sets upon the sea

  We follow in his flight;

Farewell awhile to him and thee,

  My Native Land – Good Night!

– Lord Byron: Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage – Canto One. XIII

As I continue to research the American Romantic Era’s painters most closely associated with the Hudson River School and the Luminism style for one of my upcoming projects, I am also diving back into the work of the English Romantic poets, specifically Lord Byron and John Keats. My primary concerns are the exploration of the the civilizational move from the Edenic/Arcadian, to the decadence of Empire, through the inevitable fall of Empire, on into the renewal of an eschatological and cosmopolitan Eden/Arcadia. I’ll probably post some more of my sketches for Inter Æons that will filter in some way into the completed work.

One of my favorite aspects of artistic research is that it is never as detached or disinterested as disciplines like scientific research necessarily must be. So, as I am reading through Byron’s Childe Harold’s Pilgrimage I am reading through the words of a master who knew all too well the sort of journey that the manic-depressive writer must traverse in order to create. While the notion of a tortured artist is a well-worn cliche, it can only be this way because of the truth that lies beneath it. Harold – a character that is said to resemble Byron himself, is a mercurial wanderer beset by the kinds of contradictions that most anyone who has battled bipolar disorder knows in the most visceral terms. While my own contradictions and battles might not be exaggerated to such a degree that I am some sort of Byronic Hero (or anti-hero), Harold’s revelries with wine, women, and song as he journeys far from home are something that I can identify with – sometimes his lines leave me laughing in stitches or cringing over memories of my much wilder past.

All of this brought back one of the most important works in the field of Bipolar Disorder research – Touched with Fire by world renowned psychiatric researchers, Dr. Kay Jamison. In Touched with Fire, explores the correlation between art and mental illness (featuring several bipolar artists, Byron included). Jamison herself battles bipolar disorder, and writes with intellectual flare that is uncommon for this sort of research literature. In it she notes:

From virtually all perspectives – early Greek philosopher to twentieth-century specialist – there is agreement that artistic creativity and inspiration involve, indeed require, a dipping into pre-rational or irrational sources while maintaining ongoing contact with reality and “life at the surface” The degree to which individuals can, or desire to , “summon up the depths” is among the more fascinating individual differences. Many highly creative and accomplished writers, composers, and artists functioning essentially within the rational world, without losing access to their psychic “underground”… The integration of these deeper, truly irrational sources with more logical processes can be a torturous task, but, if successful, the resulting work often bears a unique stamp, a “touch of fire,” for what it has been through.

So, like Byron, the artist’s task is to be able to oscillate from life at the surface and the subterranean depths. Perhaps there’s a little madness on this odyssey, but I would argue that certain kinds of madness are necessary for good art. Whether you’re temperament is even-keeled or manic depressive, if you’re inclined to create don’t fear to tread paths that might seem a little crazy to the outside observer.