Thursday, January 17, 2008

Eric G. Wilson: In Praise of Melancholy And Against the Happiness of the Status Quo

"Melancholia, far from a mere disease or weakness of will, is an almost miraculous invitation to transcend the banal status quo and imagine the untapped possibilities for existence. Without melancholia, the earth would likely freeze over into a fixed state, as predictable as metal. Only with the help of constant sorrow can this dying world be changed, enlivened, pushed to the new."

So he says, and persuasively. To which I could add that if all you wanted was to be simply "happy" you would have no use for the great Corkman Iarla O Lionaird and what he accomplishes with his sublime rendition of Lament of the Three Marys, accompanied by a small choir of singers who might be Scots, except for Mary Black, who is recognizable, holding the hand of some big fellow in the back. Not for the faint-hearted:


Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

O'Lionaird's version of Taimse Im’ Chodladh, with Donald Shaw on harmonium, has the hairs standing on the back of my neck.

6:44 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

Hey Francis. I think I found it!

Taimse im Chodladh = I'm asleep.

7:19 PM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

Good lad. Now do you think you could find us the words? I wouldn't mind learning the song.

1:23 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Gorgeous song but not sure about the essay. Might do a post on it.

The decidedly cheerful Gadgie

4:54 AM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

Don't worry Terry, I've found the words.

Given that it's over 30 years since I last spoke Irish in earnest, I shall not attempt a full, poetic translation here. All I will say is that the song is most beautiful – melancholic and deeply romantic.

Here is the refrain:

I sleep and will not be woken.

The day is dawning.

Come back again,
do not wake me now.

Some might object to the use of the word "sorrow" (as in "constant sorrow") in the passage from Wilson's essay quoted above. But I cannot think of an English word that better describes a melancholia grounded in hope rather than despair.

I'm normally reluctant to say anything positive about religion, but here I must pay tribute to the very human spirituality of the tribes of Israel.

You find the hopeful melancholic soul throughout the scriptures, and especially in books such as the Psalms of David, and Isaiah. "Sorrow" captures the feeling perfectly, and standard dictionary definitions do not do it justice.

5:51 AM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

I've posted a slightly expanded version of the above comment on my own site, and embedded the video of Ó’Lionáird singing Taimse Im’ Chodladh.

Thanks, Terry, for bringing the Wilson essay to our attention.

7:24 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Francis, you have hit the nail on the head and made the point I was going to make about hope. Might still do a post though when my job relents.

8:38 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

There must be something going around. There's actually something interesting up at Harry's Place today.

Sinead Lohan improving upon Bob Dylan, and the one on guitar from the O Lionaird session sitting in with her even.


10:18 AM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

There's actually something interesting up at Harry's Place today.

Don't be silly. (But I won't tell Will you said this.)

10:25 AM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

That's funny.

Actually, I meant the video is posted at Harry's Place.

There's this as well:

I want to be a cat curled at her feet.

10:37 AM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

I just want to be a cat. It just seems like so much less hassle.

10:46 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

It isn't just the Irish that are good at this.

Gykeria supported by Yiergos Dalaras sing Tzivaeri live at the Herodicus Atticus theatre at the foot of the Acropolis. It is a traditional song from Smyrna where a mother laments sending her son abroad.

12:59 PM  
Blogger Transmontanus said...

That was gorgeous, my dear large one.

I agree with Sedge about the tribes of Israel and am also inclined to imagine the Irish have had a bit of a head start over certain people in the melancholia department, but every people has some sad beauty about them. Not least the Greeks.

1:44 PM  
Blogger Jura Watchmaker said...

Gadgie - That Savina Yannatou - what's she all about? The words are all Greek to me, but the music and voice - which I like very much - sound quite lament(able).

3:25 PM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Savinna Yiannatou is one of my favourite singers. She started out recording the folk songs of the Jewish Sephardic community in Salonica. She has explored folk music from the whole of the Mediterranean, sings Jazz and Classical too. PM me if you want some more info. Just playing her own folk/jazz compositions "Ζει ο Βασιλιάς Αλέξαvδρος;", I am showing off, my Greek is execrable, it means, "Does King Alexander live". It is the mermaid's question, an old folk story.

You and Terry might also be interested in Ross Daly. He is an Irish musician who made his home in Crete and mastered the Cretan lyra. A wonderful musician who plays traditional music from all over the near east as well as his own compositions.

4:30 AM  
Blogger The Plump said...

Mind you I have just been sent a disgusting yucky chain email with a PowerPoint and suitable slushy music telling me to be happy. I am now with you on melancholy, far more human. I shall cultivate it - or at least become as grumpy as Will.

1:43 PM  
Blogger kurt said...

Americans do melancholia well too. Try the late Eva Cassidy doing Louis Armstrong justice (although with that name she's got some Irish blood too):

By the way, I think I cried in my ouzo many years ago in a Greek Taverna when I heard what might have been the Greek woman's grandmother. Lovely stuff, Plump fella, whoever you are.

11:07 PM  

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