Beloved Writers on Nature as an Antidote to Depression

“It is not upon you alone the dark spots fall, the dark tossed its patches down upon me likewise,” Walt Whitman (Might 31, 1819– March 26, 1892) wrote in his deepest-feeling, furthest-seeing poem. When the dark patches fall on me also, I stand with Whitman in turning to the most reliable wellspring of light– the natural world, or what he so soulfully described “the bracing and resilient equilibrium of concrete outdoor Nature, the only long-term dependence for peace of mind of book or human life”– the Moon seen through a telescope, so near and unassailable, this radiant orb of primeval scar tissue; the mossy trunk of a centuries-old cedar, ringed with the survival of starvations and wars, a silent witness to countless human heartaches; the tune of the thrush and the flower of the magnolia and the rich optimism of that first blade of grass through the frosty soil– these confusions of beauty do not dissipate the anxiety, however they do dissipate the self-involvement with which we people endure our sorrows, and in so unselfing us, they offer us back to ourselves.

The Bearable Lightness of Being by Maria Popova. (Available as a print benefiting The Nature Conservancy.) Here are several cherished writers from the past quarter centuries who have actually understood the dark spots totally and have written wonderfully about this abiding antidote to the inner gloom, beginning, as we must, with the poet laureate of Nature himself.


In Whitmans fifty-third year, life evaluated his credo– a paralytic stroke left him severely disabled. Under his brothers care in the woods of New Jersey, he commenced the sluggish, painstaking procedure of recovery. As he began regaining usage of his body, he attributed the little, hard-earned triumphs to being “daily in the open air,” among the trees and under the stars. He eventually recovered almost entirely, having turned the woods into an outside fitness center, but the catastrophe left him existentially shaken into thinking about the most essential concerns: Where does one find implying in the middle of the precarious uncertainty of being? How does one maximize those little pockets of gladness that make it possible to go on living and making art through severe suffering? What, ultimately, makes life worth living?

Even as he was making up Leaves of Grass– that timeless gift of light– Whitman was wormed by the darkest self-doubt: “Every thing I have actually done appears to me suspicious and blank,” he anguished in his journal. “I doubt whether my greatest ideas … are not shallow– and individuals will most likely laugh at me.” However on some essential level, he understood that those efficient in reaching “sky-reaching heights and sunny expanses” are equally apt “to stay on the bare spots and darknesses.” He believed “that no artist or work of the really first class might be or can be without them.” It is a concept totally different from the hazardous myth of the suffering artist– rather, it is the bold recognition that in order for one to make works of irrepressible reality and beauty, one should feel completely, to draw on the whole spectrum of being without repressing the darkest feelings.

His resulting meditations appear in Specimen Days (town library)– the completely indispensable collection of his prose pieces, letters, and journal entries that likewise gave us Whitmans reflections on the spiritual power of music, optimism as a force of political resistance, and how to keep criticism from sinking your imaginative confidence.

Art by Margaret C. Cook from an unusual 1913 edition of Leaves of Grass. (Available as a print.) A years after his stroke, Whitman reflected on what conserved him– body and soul– and composes:

The trick is, I find, to tone your desires and tastes low down enough, and make much of negatives, and of simple daytime and the skies.
[…] After you have tired what there is in organisation, politics, conviviality, love, and so on– have discovered that none of these finally satisfy, or permanently use– what remains? Nature stays; to highlight from their torpid recesses, the affinities of a male or lady with the open air, the trees, fields, the changes of seasons– the sun by day and the stars of paradise by night.

In another entry, he considers the essence of joy, locating it in absolute existence with nature and unalloyed attention with the rhythms of the Earth:


No record endures of the weeks including Rachel and Dorothys last summer hours together– the lack of letters suggesting that they invested every precious minute in each others presence. Tide swimming pool adventures were now a distant memory– compression fractures in Carsons spine made it tough to stroll, painful even to stand. Dorothy thought she looked like alabaster. They invested afternoons together in a little cleaning in the woods near Carsons home, enjoying the clouds drift throughout the sky, listening to the bird orchestra in the trees, and checking out to each other from their favorite books.

It is outstanding enough that Lorraine Hansberry (May 19, 1930– January 12, 1965)– whom James Baldwin loved and explained as “a little, shy, figured out individual … not trying to make it [Just] attempting to keep the faith”– reinvented our cultural landscape of possibility by ending up being the first black playwright performed on Broadway and going on to provide civil liberties with a whole new vocabulary of action. It is triply outstanding that she did so while the grey nimbus of depression hung low and heavy over huge swaths of her life. Hansberry kept the faith mostly by turning to nature for its irrepressible light.

Keats found just 2 solutions for the soul-stifling numbness: the love of his good friends (” I could not live without the love of my good friends”) and the love of nature. Another letter to his dearest buddy stands as a gorgeous, bittersweet testimony to both:.

Once again and once again, Thoreau took solace in nature. In the high summer of 1852, a decade after his bros death and a decade before his own, Thoreau attracts the margin of his journal a sketch of the local hill crests, dotted with the tops of trees, then considers this natural vista as a life-saving calibration of perspective for the sorrow-blinded heart:.

You possibly at one time believed there was such a thing as Worldly Happiness to be reached, at specific durations of time defined– you have of requirement from your personality been hence led away– I hardly keep in mind counting upon any Happiness– I look not for it if it be not in today hour– nothing startles me beyond the Moment. The setting sun will constantly set me to rights– or if a Sparrow come before my Window I take part in its presence and pick about the Gravel.

” Life needs to be undergone,” John Keats (October 31, 1795– February 23, 1821) composed to his closest pal, “and I certainly derive an alleviation from the thought of composing one or two more Poems prior to it stops.” Keatss brief life was savaged by periodic attacks of depression. In another fragment of his excellent in his Selected Letters (town library), he writes: “I am now so depressed I have not an Idea to put to paper– my hand seems like lead– and yet it is an undesirable pins and needles it does not eliminate the discomfort of presence.”.


Hills, the trees, sunrise and sundown– the lake the moon and the stars/ summer clouds– the poets have been right in these centuries … even in its astonishing imperfection this earth of ours is magnificent.

” Last night the ideas of all the birds and other animals and all the loveliness that remains in nature came to me with such a rise of deep happiness, that now I had done what I could,” the great marine biologist and author Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907– April 14, 1964) composed to her soul mate, Dorothy Freeman, of that symphonic moment when she kipped down the manuscript of Silent Spring– the courageous exposé that catalyzed the environmental motion, which had actually taken Carson a decade of incubation and four years of extensive research to bring to life as she was passing away of cancer. Dorothy had been her pillar throughout both of these superhuman parallel journeys– the only person in whom this fantastic, stoical female confided the complexity of her inner world, her writing process and the solitude of imaginative work, her silent fights. (Their tender relationship and how it fortified Carsons scientific work and significant cultural tradition animate the last 2 hundred pages of Figuring, from which this mini essay is adapted.).

In a diary entry priced estimate in Imani Perrys altogether splendid biography Looking for Lorraine: The Radiant and Radical Life of Lorraine Hansberry (public library), Hansberry observes with dispassionate get rid of that her distress has taken on the shape of “a consistent, calm peaceful sort of suffering”; sitting in a place she had actually as soon as loved, now feeling “feeling cold, worthless, frustrated, powerless, disillusioned, exhausted and upset” there, she turns her weary gaze towards the only salve she knows:.

If you are afflicted with melancholy at this season, go to the overload and see the brave spears of skunk-cabbage buds already advanced towards a brand-new year. Their gravestones are not bespoken. Is it the winter of their discontent? Do they appear to have lain down to die, despairing of skunk-cabbagedom? “Up and at em,” “Give it to em,” “Excelsior,” “Put it through,”– these are their mottoes. Mortal human animals need to take a little break in this fall of the year; their spirits do flag a little. There is a little questioning of fate, and believing to go like cowards to where the “weary shall be at rest.” Not so with the skunk-cabbage. Are these false prophets? Is it a lie or a vain boast below the skunk-cabbage bud, pressing it upward and raising the dead leaves with it? They rest with spears advanced; they rest to shoot! … See those green cabbage buds raising the dry leaves in that muddy and watery place. There is no cant nor cant to them. They see over the brow of winter seasons hill. They see another summer season ahead.

But his existential brilliance was quickly blackened when his finest and at times just friend– his sibling John– died of tetanus from a shaving cut when Thoreau was twenty-five. He watched in helpless scary as tetanus warped his siblings face and convulsions contorted his body before the deadly bacterium declared his life. He then sank into a deep depression that never ever fully declined, lapping at him in lifelong waves.

To be sure, living in such intimate proximity with nature, Thoreau was offered to elations that avert the contemporary civilization-stifled mind. In an entry penned two days after his thirty-third birthday, he exults:.

In Whitmans fifty-third year, life evaluated his credo– a paralytic stroke left him significantly handicapped. I do not know what or how, but it seems to me primarily owing to these skies, (every now and then I believe, while I have of course seen them every day of my life, I never ever actually saw the skies prior to,) I have had this autumn some wondrously pleased hours– might I not say perfectly pleased ones? Towns of strong uplandish fame, where some of the early morning and primal vitality still remains … it is cheering to believe that it is with such neighborhoods that we die or survive … The melancholy male who had actually come forth to dedicate suicide on this hill may be saved by being hence reminded how lots of brave and pleased lives are lived in between him and the horizon.” Last night the thoughts of all the birds and other creatures and all the loveliness that is in nature came to me with such a surge of deep joy, that now I had actually done what I could,” the excellent marine biologist and author Rachel Carson (May 27, 1907– April 14, 1964) composed to her soul mate, Dorothy Freeman, of that symphonic moment when she turned in the manuscript of Silent Spring– the courageous exposé that catalyzed the environmental movement, which had actually taken Carson a years of incubation and 4 years of rigorous research study to bring to life as she was passing away of cancer. The idea is the exact same: when that intangible cycle has actually run its course it is a not unhappy and natural thing that a life comes to an end.

To those ostensibly acquainted with his life and work, Henry David Thoreau (July 12, 1817– May 6, 1862) may appear as a rosy-lensed optimist intoxicated on transcendentalist deception, residing in self-elected exile from the darker realities of the world. Such an estimation of his inner world– of anyones inner world– is not only impoverished of nuance, but orthogonal to the complex full-spectrum human start who increases from the pages of The Journal of Henry David Thoreau (town library)– that classic fount of reality bathing us across the centuries in Thoreaus knowledge on such different aspects of aliveness as seeing versus understanding, the misconception of efficiency, the greatest gift of growing old, the sacredness of public libraries, the imaginative advantages of keeping a journal, and the only rewarding meaning of success.

That afternoon, Rachel sent out Dorothy a lyrical “postscript” to their early morning. Detailing the splendors that had actually engraved themselves onto her memory– the specific shade of the sky, the particular score of the browse– she wrote:.

One shimmering day in early September, Dorothy took Rachel to their preferred area on the pointer of the island, where they had once viewed meteors blaze ephemeral bridges of light throughout the riverine haze of the Milky Way. Half a century later on, monarchs would take flight aboard the International Space Station, and the Fish and Wildlife Service, where Carson had actually begun her profession, would call for their addition in the securities of the Endangered Species Act– one of several dozen ecological defense laws passed in the 1970s as direct and indirect effects of Silent Spring.

Towns of tough uplandish popularity, where some of the morning and primal vigor still sticks around … it is cheering to believe that it is with such communities that we die or survive … The melancholy male who had actually come forth to dedicate suicide on this hill may be conserved by being thus advised how many brave and contented lives are lived between him and the horizon. Those hills extend our plot of earth; they make our native valley or indentation in the earth so much the larger.


Her congressional testimony, after which she was flooded by letters from people thanking her for having actually spoken bothersome fact to power, was a crowning minute for the inner voice that had moved Carson through the tough years leading up to Silent Spring. Having executed her duty as a resident, scientist, and steward of life, she was free and agitated to return to the sea, to her summer season cabin on Southport Island in Maine, to Dorothy.


In early June 1963, a year after the release of Silent Spring, Carson climbed into the passenger seat of her Oldsmobile and had her assistant take her from her house in Maryland to Capitol Hill– the pain in her back, shoulder, neck, and spinal column was by now too unbearable for Carson to drive even this short distance herself– to appear prior to a congressional committee on pesticides, summoned as a repercussion of Silent Spring. Under the intense television lights, all traces of physical agony ran away from the authoritative existence that took the witness stand in the windowless, wood-paneled Room 102 of the Senate building. 101 years after Abraham Lincoln greeted Uncle Toms Cabin author Harriet Beecher Stowe with the words “This is the little lady who composed the book that began this great war,” the presiding Senator greeted Carson: “Miss Carson … we welcome you here. You are the lady who began all this. Will you please continue.”.

We talked a little about their migration, their life history. We believed not; for many, at least, this was the closing journey of their lives.
However it struck me this afternoon, remembering, that it had actually been a pleased spectacle, that we had felt no unhappiness when we mentioned the reality that there would be no return. And appropriately– for when any living thing has come to the end of its life cycle we accept that end as natural.
For the Monarch, that cycle is measured in a recognized period of months. For ourselves, the step is something else, the span of which we can not understand. The idea is the same: when that intangible cycle has run its course it is a natural and not unhappy thing that a life comes to an end.
That is what those vibrantly fluttering little bits of life taught me today. I discovered a deep happiness in it– so I hope, might you.
[…] I want to live on in your memories of joy. I will compose more of those things.

I do not know what or how, but it seems to me mostly owing to these skies, (every once in a while I think, while I have of course seen them every day of my life, I never ever really saw the skies prior to,) I have had this autumn some wondrously pleased hours– might I not state completely delighted ones? As Ive read, Byron prior to his death informed a buddy that he had actually known however 3 delighted hours during his whole presence. There is the old German legend of the kings bell, to the very same point. While I was out there by the wood, that lovely sunset through the trees, I considered Byrons and the bell story, and the notion started in me that I was having a delighted hour. (Though possibly my finest moments I never ever take down; when they come I can not pay for to break the charm by inditing memoranda. I simply desert myself to the state of mind, and let it drift on, bring me in its placid extasy.).

What sweet and tender, the most innocent and divinely encouraging society there remains in every natural things, and so in universal nature, even for the bad misanthrope and most melancholy male! There can be no really black melancholy to him who resides in the middle of nature and has still his senses.

In another entry penned in fall– which, long prior to the diagnostic notion of seasonal depression, Thoreau noted as a season when the human spirit tends to take a marked slump– he draws from a particular development of nature a living metaphor for how to move through the darkest seasons of the heart:.

Speaking calmly into the press posy of six microphones prior to her, Carson continued to deliver a spectacular forty-minute testament predicated on revealing the delicate interconnectedness of nature and tracing the significant destruction caused by harmful chemicals once they go into an environment. She gave her strong recommendation for establishing an agency tasked with safeguarding nature– a landmark development that would take the federal government another 7 years to institute.