'Either/Or' by Søren Kierkegaard (1843)

A selection from Either/Or by Søren Kierkegaard, 1843.


What is a poet? An Unhappy man who hides deep anguish in his heart, but whose lips are so formed that when the sigh and cry pass through them, it sounds like lovely music. His fate is that of those unfortunates who were slowly tortured by a gentle fire in Phalaris’s bull; their cries could not reach the tyrant’s ears to cause him dismay, to him they sounded like sweet music. And people flock around the poet and say: ‘Sing again soon’ – that is, ‘May new sufferings torment your soul but your lips be fashioned as before, for the cry would only frighten us but the music, that is blissful.'

What, then, is melancholy? It is hysteria of the spirit. There comes a moment in a mans life when immediacy is as though ripened and when the spirit demands a higher form in which it will apprehend itself in spirit... .

There is something unaccountable in melancholy. A person in sorrow or distress knows why he sorrows or is distressed. If you ask a melancholic what reason he has for his condition, what it is that weighs down on him, he will reply, ‘I don’t know what it is, I can’t explain it.’ Therein lies melancholy’s infinitude. The reply is perfectly correct, for as soon as he knows what it is, the effect is removed, whereas the grief of the griever is by no means removed in knowing why he grieves. But melancholy is a sin as great as any, for it is the sin of not willing deeply and sincerely, and this is a mother to all sins. This sickness, or more properly, this sin, is extremely common in our time, and accordingly it is under this that the whole of German and French youth groan. I will not provoke you, I would treat you as considerately as possible. I gladly admit that being melancholy is in a sense not a bad sign, for as a rule only the most gifted natures are afflicted by it. People whose souls have no acquaintance with melancholy are those whose souls have no presentiment of metamorphosis.... for you scarcely assume as many physicians do, that melancholy is a bodily ailment, though for all that, remarkably enough, physicians cannot cure it; only the spirit can cure it, for it lies in the spirit, and when the spirit finds itself all small sorrows vanish, those reasons which in the view of some produce melancholy – that one cannot find oneself in the world, that one comes to the world both too late and too early, that one cannot find ones place in life; but the person who owns himself eternally, it is neither too early nor too late that he comes to the world, and the person who possesses himself in his eternal validity will surely find his significance in this life.