out of Burton
A discussion by Hyatt H. Waggoner
[Lewis] Turco’s 1985 collection The Compleat Melancholick is identified as “Being a Sequence of Found, Composite, and Composed Poems, based largely upon Robert Burton’s The Anatomy of Melancholy.” I’ve been picking it up and browsing in it almost every day since it arrived, rather than reading it straight through at once — it seemed to invite that kind of approach.
The book as a whole is an interesting experiment, and I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent with it. There are many reasons for being melancholy, but this book is not one of them. Rather, it seems to distance the reasons and hold the melancholy at bay, partly by its relation to Burton’s book, partly by Turco’s own — sometimes quite dark — humor:
Listen to Lewis Turco read The Compleat Melancholick
"Of seasons of the year,
the Autumn is most melancholy."
Then lovers lie within their sheets,
thoughts winding among their separations,
dreaming of darknesses chill enough
"to refrigerate the heart —
cholick of leaves and limbs, of owlcry
and blue hound moaning at the sky.
"Some persons think that every star's a world,
and call this earth of ours an obscure
star, presided over by the least of
"gods." The lovers dream of
"phrenzy, ecstasy, revelations,
visions, enthusiasms," these
demons of the blood. "The Talmudists say
that Adam had a wife called Lilis,
before he married Eve, &
"of her he begat no
Thing but Dyvils. These unclean spirits
settled in our bodies, and now
mixed with our melancholy humours, do
triumph as it were, and sport themselves
as in another heaven.
"Cauls, kells, tunicles, creeks"
are their changelings for our desires. "By
their charms they can draw down the moon
from the heavens." The lovers? — they lie to
wish. "This humour of Melancholy
is called the Devil's Bath." You
least of Gods, this is
a petty Hell: These solitary
pallets beneath the falling moon.
I conjure you, with little charm, "Bring their
sweethearts to them by night, upon a
goat's back flying in the air."
Excerpted from the review by Hyatt H. Waggoner in The Hollins Critic, xxiii:5, Dec. 1986.
This poem first appeared in Wind, viii:28, 1978, and is the title poem of The Compleat Melancholick by Lewis Turco, Minneapolis: The Bieler Press, 1985, Signed, limited fine edition, ISBN 0-931460-12-3; ISBN 0-931460-15-8, wrappers. Chicago Book Clinic Exhibit Certificate of Award, 1986; Selected for inclusion in the National Endowment for the Arts' New American Writing Exhibits, International Book Fairs of Frankfurt and Liber, 1986. The entire series was reprinted in Fearful Pleasures: The Complete Poems of Lewis Turco 1959-2007, www.StarCloudPress.com, 2007, ISBN 978-1-932842-19-5, jacketed cloth; ISBN 978-1-932842-20-3, trade paperback, 640 pages. Available from AMAZON.COM.