gloomy planets and melancholia

We call my littlest one “rule girl,” because she is inordinately responsible and wise and respectful, keeping the chaos of the world well tamed within the confines of her creative mind and its imaginings. She has few fears beyond the normal anxieties of Sunday nights and spiders and things that young girls fear.

She did have one very intense fear, and as childhood fears go this was a bit of a surprise for it was straight out of a very innocuous video. We thought it amusing at the time (in a gentle way, of course), the way she would run and hide when the “gloomy planet” came on screen and the music began to warp and wobble. This sad blue orb instilled in her a fear so intensely visceral that no doubt it still remains.

Fears are like that, quiet at times as they nestle deep within, only to dart out unexpectedly to show us that they still exist untamed, unfettered.

The memory of the gloomy planet came to me, oddly, as I watched “Melancholia,” a movie which haunts and whose images burned their way into my thoughts. Fear and the inevitability of our demise, indeed. I thought of the burning house question of what would you take, who would you embrace, how would you greet the end.

We all have that blue planet hovering with ominous beauty, ready to overtake us at some point despite the magic cave which offers its illusive protection.

Justine stretches naked, her long lithe body pale and illuminated by the planet’s light. She is done with the trivial nature of life and love and sees with clarity that in the end it will be over so why pretend? Clare studies the diagram of the dance of death and is a terrified mess. With touching gentleness she cares for her sister despite her cruelty, with fierce love she clutches her child to protect him as the hail falls upon them. She is selfless even in her fear.

As a child your fears are based on losing yourself, they are of strange gloomy planets and irrational worries that keep you up at night. As you grow older your fears are less wild and irrational and often not so much about the self as they are about those you love.

In the meantime it is the little details which we embrace, savoring them with perhaps even more intensity for we know that they are, in the end, what matters. It is about how many jellybeans are in the jar and how that last sip of wine tastes on the terrace while we hold hands and await the collision together. It will come, we know that, but what matters is what comes before.

“Some say the world will end in fire…” Frost’s “Fire and Ice” came to mind, and when I revisited it I found reference to another of his poems, “Desert Places,” which struck me, particularly the last stanza, as a fitting way to end this post.

Snow falling and night falling fast, oh, fast
In a field I looked into going past,
And the ground almost covered smooth in snow,
But a few weeds and stubble showing last.

The woods around it have it–it is theirs.
All animals are smothered in their lairs.
I am too absent-spirited to count;
The loneliness includes me unawares.

And lonely as it is that loneliness
Will be more lonely ere it will be less–
A blanker whiteness of benighted snow
With no expression, nothing to express.

They cannot scare me with their empty spaces
Between stars–on stars where no human race is.
I have it in me so much nearer home
To scare myself with my own desert places.


4 thoughts on “gloomy planets and melancholia

  1. When my daughter was young, I thought for sure she would love ‘E.T’ as much as I do. Not so much. What was charming to me was creepy and frightening to her (maybe still is). You move so beautifully from the kind of intuitive fear, perhaps rooted in an innocence, a child has to those fears rooted in experience that plague adults. And the lines from Robert Frost are, indeed, a perfect ending to the post.

      1. I missed it when it was out . . . but I do want to see it. Something to catch up with on Netflix or DVD.

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