Spike Milligan and Francis Webb

Two famous writers with severe mental illness have recorded some of their anguish, even horror, at their illness and at its treatment, in their poetry. 

Spike MilliganManic Depression 

The pain is too much

A thousand grim winters

            grow in my head.

In my ears

            the sound of

            the coming dead.

All seasons

All sane

All living

All pain.

No opiate to lock still

            my senses.

Only left,

            the body locked tenses.




 The flowers in my garden

            grow down.

Their colour is pain

Their fragrance sorrow.

Into my eyes grow their roots

            feeling for tears

To nourish the black

            hopeless rose

            within me.


(Nervous breakdown Bournemouth February 1967)The futureConsider: Do creative people have a higher incidence of psychiatric illness? Why?


Francis Webbfrom the Prologue to Electric (1961)from Ward Two : Old timer 

Isolate the Identity, clasp its dwindling head.

Your birth was again the birth of the All,

The Enemy: he treads rods, lumbers through pastures,

Musters the squeaking horde of the countless dead.

To guard your spark borrow the jungle art

Of this hospital yard, stamp calico vestures

For H.M. Government, for your funeral;

And in this moment of beads let nothing start

Old rages leaping in the dying heart.


from Ward Two: Ward Two and the KookaburraConsider 

No image yet: it is a universe,

Travail of every satellite living thing.

Your charges know the wan flypaper course

Of hygienic time, past beckoning

Of shopfront, woodland: spirit glued and writhing

With regular meals, good decent sensible clothing,

Wise comment from a seemly distance. Bring

Grace to this world, to all the world, and sing.


References and Further Reading 

Milligan S (1972) Small dreams of a Scorpion   Penguin

Szasz T (1960; 1974) The Myth of Mental Illness   Harper and Row

Szasz T (1976) Schizophrenia, the Sacred Symbol of Psychiatry    Syracuse UP

Webb F (1969) Collected Poems   Angus and Robertson

updated: 22/03/2010