Are All Poets Mad?
Are all poets mad?
That's the question, to be had
Maybe posed by Shakespeare (As well he might
in Winter's Night.)
But Robert Burton had the answer.
Yes, they are for certain.
And all others who inhibit this sphere
Are mad as well It's clear.
For in 'The Anatomy of Melancholy',
Burton went on to examine characteristics of
those who suffer from the malady
(And he surely did as well) .
Fall under it's spell.
Here's what he had to say
In that long ago day,
About learning, for sure -
Learning is the foodstuff, impure.
That provides the sustenance
To survive an empty belly's persistence,
When affected by the malady
Called by others, melancholy.
His writings are an enigma flowing from his pen,
With no apparent beginning or end,
As he becomes so engrossed in the pursuit of a subject
That there is nothing he can neglect.
He cannot escape the impulse to explain
Just a bit further some issue that comes to the insane.
Burton if asked the time,
Would begin by emptying his mind
Telling you how to build a clock.
Complete with what gave the sound, 'tick-tock.'
For poets, rhetoricians, historians,
Philosophers and mathematicians,
Sophisters (those who use specious reasoning
(which sounds good but which is wrong in telling!)
Are like grasshoppers,
Who must sing in summer,
And pine in the winter,
For there is no preferment
For them in final judgement.
Even so they were at first,
If you believed that pleasant tale of Socrates
Which he told to Phaedrus,
Under a plane tree about noon
When it was hot and soon,
The grasshoppers began to sing
The message of their being.
For Grasshoppers were once scholars,
Musicians, poets, and noted others.
In a time before the Muses were born,
And meat and drink they spurned.
As they required no daily fare,
So were turned by Jupiter into grasshoppers there.
And poets may well be
Turned again into Grasshoppers,
If they are to remain free..
Robert Burton in 'The Anatomy of Melancholy' provides an apt description of the word that has many scratching their head. He wrote in 1617 or thereabouts, 'Many new and old writers have spoken confusedly of it, confounding melancholy and madness... others acknowledge a multitude of kinds, and leave them indefinite... pp 112, The Anatomy of Melancholy, William Tegg and Co., London,1854.