The fire is just for company —
October night are none so chill;
Yet when these devils come to me,
I pile the logs on with a will.
I know, too well, the leveret
Of hope has fled from such a pack;
The badger, solace, seeks his sett.
It is not courage that we lack,
Nor confidence— not any grace
Of which I ever heard or knew;
But those whose fate it is to face
A black dog’s stare know what I do.
We sit. We stand. We heed no bark.
We stare in space. We take no call.
We kindle noon-day into dark,
And turn from laughter in the hall.
The logs burn well, but scarce suffice
To hold a hound of hell at bay;
More wood! No counsel— nor advice
Will serve as well as wood this day.
I brood. I curse. I pace the room,
I stare into my gloomy pyre;
A black dog with his breath of doom
Sits silent— waiting—by the fire.
If Emily Dickinson and Winston Churchill had anything in common, it was defiance in the face of despair. Both cautioned (one might even say lectured) against surrender to any dark night of the soul, and especially against its public display in their literary works. Being an Englishman and an old-fashioned fool to boot, I would, of course, rather go cold turkey than seek medical advice or bother even my closest friends when gripped by depression. It was Churchill who nicknamed his occasional depressive bouts ‘the black dog’, seeking relief, I suppose, in gallows humour. But times have changed. Today, there is no subject, however personal or harrowing, considered unfit for public discussion and dissection, especially on ‘confessional’ celebrity chat shows and their ilk. Perhaps it all for the best. But not for me. I prefer the exorcism of cold meter and ‘telling it slant’, just as Emily so wittily counselled from the privacy of her room in Amherst, Massachusetts, one hundred and fifty years ago.