Understanding Depression Through Poetry

On February 23 I posted a blog entitled “Consider the Source: Exploring William Shirer’s ‘Rise and Fall of the Third Reich’.” I must admit more of an academic post than the ones I have produced in the past, but I needed to write it down.

I am constantly exposed to reading and seeing journalists being villainized. The media and the ones that produce the contents are the unfortunate scapegoats. We just love to hate the media in a sick, violent way, but I have to suggest that the media is a part of history no matter how diluted (or non transparent) it appears.

I will retire my soap box for a moment. I will however come back to this idea of questioning the source, because as an aspiring writer I simply cannot let this issue be swept underneath the rug.

I am an advent reader of poetry, my grandmother was a lyricist so I was constantly surrounded by Emily Dickinson, Matthea Harvey, or Audre Lorde. I even minored in poetry at Queens College a few years ago, but easily dropped the minor when I transferred to the Savannah College of Art and Design.

As I kicked my feet up and listened to Fleming and John, while my fiance so graciously endured the entire 13 hour drive from Maryland to Savannah, I peered into my tote bag looking for my collection of poetry I often carry around with me when I travel.

Pristine, in all its glory, I slid my index finger to a random place and opened up Emily Dickinson’s “I felt a Funeral, in my Brain.” The content is derived directly from the Poetry Foundation:

I felt a Funeral, in my Brain,
And Mourners to and fro
Kept treading – treading – till it seemed
That Sense was breaking through –
And when they all were seated,
A Service, like a Drum –
Kept beating – beating – till I thought
My mind was going numb –
And then I heard them lift a Box
And creak across my Soul
With those same Boots of Lead, again,
Then Space – began to toll,
As all the Heavens were a Bell,
And Being, but an Ear,
And I, and Silence, some strange Race,
Wrecked, solitary, here –
And then a Plank in Reason, broke,
And I dropped down, and down –
And hit a World, at every plunge,
And Finished knowing – then –


Since the “road trip” I tore the poem from my book and taped it to my refrigerator. After my grandmother passed away and my emotional state began to spiral, I found clarity and a sense of closure through this poem.

It is hard to explain to someone what depression is or how it works; it’s almost ridiculous in a way because it really isn’t something that someone talks about in a passing conversation. It isn’t something that can be easily defined, perhaps in a psychological sense we can get the general idea of how depression effects the person, but it isn’t a concrete concept.

When I read this poem for the first time I heard sound; I heard the sound of wood creaking and bells chiming. I felt the ground break from underneath me and I felt the air pass through my stomach as I fell through this world.

Perhaps explaining depression through poetry is the only way. Its abstract nature fits perfectly with the genre. I felt that Dickinson touched an emotional understanding that I haven’t had in a long time. A moment of clarity into how I feel. Depression isn’t really about being sad all the time, sometimes you smile – even when you force your muscles to contract – and even laugh – as hollow as it may sound. Sometimes you can just tolerate the day, but actually getting through the day that’s something completely different.

When I imagine a funeral I imagine the soul’s energy being sucked into a vacuum; a loss of energy. A feeling as though you are a dog’s chew toy and all of your stuffing has been ripped out; lifeless skin, a shell.

The title is misleading because one cannot simply understand depression completely. It is more often said than it is understood, and the stigma around it is something entirely different. Perhaps, the only way for me to get in touch with a part of myself is to look to poetry, not as a way to escape – I HATE when people use writing as a way to “escape” – but to confront something much bigger than myself in a way I can come to understand.


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