I've been studying for my upcoming comprehensive exams, most recently reading a lot of Emerson and Whitman. I remember encountering them as a young English major many years ago and embracing their wild optimism and their celebration of the individual self. Now, when I read them, what I mostly see are clear symptoms of bipolar disorder.
Consider this passage from Emerson's Nature:
"Crossing a bare common, in snow puddles, at twilight, under a clouded sky, without having in my thoughts any occurrence of special good fortune, I have enjoyed a perfect exhilaration. I am glad to the brink of fear."
A textbook manic episode?
I'm not sure if my reaction is part of our current tendency to read pathology into everything, an adept amateur diagnosis, or a projection of my own jadedness.
Here's a stanza from Whitman's Leaves of Grass:
Smile O voluptuous cool-breath'd earth!
Earth of the slumbering and liquid trees!
Earth of departed sunset--earth of the mountains misty-topt!
Earth of the vitreous pour of the full moon just tinged with blue!
Earth of shine and dark mottling the tide of the river!
Earth of the limpid gray of clouds brighter and clearer for my sake!
Far-swooping elbow'd earth--rich apple-blossom'd earth!
Smile, for your lover comes.
Of how many potentially great poets are psychotropic drugs robbing us today?
Back to the books.