River on Fire (original)

I wrote this song a year ago, while reading about the poet Robert Lowell. 

He is inspirational, not solely due to his extraordinary work, but  also his strength of character. Despite suffering from inevitably recurring pathological moods and numerous breakdowns - he was hospitalised 20 times - he had the courage to keep living and working, to rebuild himself each time it broke him. I’ve got no first hand experience with mania, but as a teen I watched it wrestle my Grandfather to the ground, who had neither the will nor the discipline to keep the wild fire under check. 

Lowell however, was more self-aware, and driven by purpose - to create something of value. 

“My trouble is to bring together in me the Puritanical iron hand of constraint and the gushes of pure wildness. One can’t survive or write without both but they need to come to terms. Rather narrow walking,” he wrote. And, realizing what he dealt with was outside his control, “We must bend, not break.” 

He managed this tightrope walk admirably, until he died of a heart attack at 60 - maybe that's why his story is not as widely known as those of poets and artists who died younger and by suicide. Suicide, often glamorized by the media, movies, and adverts, makes a better, more dramatic, more profitable story. 

The Fashion magazine Vice, for example,  published a spectacularly tasteless spread of female writer suicides, where models posed as said writers at the time of their death, complete with fashion credits. (Seriously, it’s revolting to advertise the stockings the writer Sanmao might have hung herself with, and I’m sure Sylvia Plath didn’t care one bit what she wore before she stuck her head in the oven.) 

But I’m digressing. To end on a more optimistic note, I shall have to quote Lowell himself: 

“Darkness honestly lived through is a place of wonder and life.” That’s a hell of a challenge, but coming from someone who achieved so much with such difficult cards to play, it’s incredibly uplifting.