As a writer, I can’t pass up the opportunity to share with you a list of poets with mental illness. These are just a few of the men and women who lived with mental illness and still managed to do what they loved – write poetry! (Of course, some would argue their mental health is what made the writers so talented, or that their careers as writers helped lead to their mental illness, but, that’s a completely different conversation altogether.)
Recognize any of these names?
Bright star, would I were stedfast as thou art -
Not in lone splendour hung aloft the night
And watching, with eternal lids apart,
Like nature’s patient, sleepless Eremite
- John Keats, Bright Star
Anthony Storr and Nancy Andreasen, M.D. wrote about John Keats and his mental illness in The Dynamics of Creation and The Broken Brain: The Biological Revolution in Psychiatry, respectively.
This is the fluid in which we meet each other,
This haloey radiance that seems to breathe
And lets our shadows wither
Only to blow
Them huge again, violent giants on the wall.
One match scratch makes you real.
- Sylvia Plath, By Candlelight
Also well known for her novel The Bell Jar, Sylvia Plath struggled with severe depression for most of her life until she completed suicide at the age of 30. b5media’s own Kristen King wrote about Sylvia Plath here at Mental Health Notes: Sylvia Plath: Glimpse Into The Writer’s Mind.
I never saw so sweet a face
As that I stood before.
My heart has left its dwelling-place
And can return no more.
- John Clare, First Love
After he continued to increase his alcohol consumption and his mental health seemed to be waning, John Clare was placed in High Beach Asylum where he rewrote works by Lord Byron and at times took credit for William Shakespeare’s works. Roger Sales wrote about it all in John Clare: A Literary Life.
Too many, Lord, abuse Thy grace
In this licentious day,
And while they boast they see Thy face,
They turn their own away.
- William Cowper, Abuse of the Gospel
Also a hymnodist, William Cowper focused a great deal on religious themes in his poetry. Cowper suffered periods of severe depression and tried to commit suicide several times before being placed in an asylum. He wrote Hatred and vengeance, my eternal portion after the suicide attempts.
I myself spent nine years in an insane asylum and I never had the obsession of suicide, but I know that each conversation with a psychiatrist, every morning at the time of his visit, made me want to hang myself, realizing that I would not be able to cut his throat.
- Antonin Artaud, French playwright, poet, actor and director
I can’t find any complete poems by Antonin Artaud online (though you can read The Reinvention Of The Human Face, his poem-like introduction to a 1947 exhibition of his portraits and drawings), but this man is interesting enough without having any of his poems to peruse. Especially brow-raising is his Theatre of Cruelty. Check out this Web site dedicated to Antonin Artaud to learn more.
Have anymore poets with mental illness to add to the list? Share ‘em in the comments! In the meantime – and unrelated to mental health – check out Astronomy Buff blogger Tony Darnell’s haiku about his beloved blog!
Are you a mental health consumer also doing what you love? Check out This Is Why I ROCK! for details on how to strut your stuff!