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.
No opiate to lock still
the body locked tenses.
The flowers in my garden
Their colour is pain
Their fragrance sorrow.
Into my eyes grow their roots
feeling for tears
To nourish the black
(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