Opinion: On Melancholy

First published on Jane Through the Seasons

Black Clouds in Sepia. Photo by Jane Odartey

One of the most influential essays I have read so far is Edmund Burke’s On the Sublime and Beautiful. It has change my perspective on many things, or perhaps it has encouraged me to look at things through a different tint.

Burke argues that pleasure and pain belong firmly in their own corners, so when one is not in pain, it doesn’t mean thay are in pleasure but rather in a certain state between these two emotions.

My thoughts are here because I have been thinking about the beauty of melancholy. I have always felt that there is a beauty to it. Especially when it is within matters of the heart, and there isn’t any fear of immediate physical danger. Melancholy seems to have a lot in common with the sublime. In my mind’s eye, melancholy often carries a sense of grandeur: one often makes it out to be bigger than oneself—we often describe ourselves as being lost in it; overwhelmed by it; controlled by it. It sweeps us into moans which are pleasing in heavy ways. Also there’s often a sense of unclarity, a fog that encourages the moodiness it embraces us in.

When one’s sad, it’s like little drops of water on the heart, where as when one is happy, it feels like little drops of sunshine on that same heart. Hence happiness is weightless and melancholy heavy. Therefore, one feels as though happiness is instant, no matter how long one is immersed in its airiness; where as every second of melancholy feels wet. And yet, it is often melancholy which reveals to us glimpses of the self. And it is, perhaps, the ability to feel this sublimeness within that motivates our humanity.

Jane Odartey