Away, Melancholy by Stevie Smith is a poem which revolves around the theme of positivity in the face of sorrow. The poet shows how humans are reflected in the beauty of nature and reinforce that humanity is good. The goodness of humanity is of more value than its failures, so the feeling of melancholy must depart.
This 48-line poem is split into 9 stanzas of varying lengths. The poem makes use of couplets, quintains, and dizains. A couplet is a stanza with two lines, a quintain has 5 lines, and a dizain has 10 lines. There isn’t a rhyme scheme or structure, and it reads as an outpouring of thoughts from the poet into the world.
Away, Melancholy | Summary and Analysis
Away with it, let it go.
Are not the trees green,
The earth as green?
Does not the wind blow,
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
The poem starts with a demand, with the poet telling the feeling of melancholy to go away. This becomes the refrain or mantra of the poem, as melancholy has no place in the world. Melancholy is a feeling of sadness, usually without an exact cause. It is a gloomy feeling that can be compared to the depths of sorrow, and humanity may find themselves lost in it. The poet asks this feeling to go away, to leave her be. The phrase “let it go” also shows that it is a conscious decision, so the world must let go of melancholy, and melancholy must let humanity out of its grasp. These words have an element of pleading, and this plea continues as the poet explains how the feeling of melancholy has no place in the world.
The Earth is beautiful, and the theme of nature is used very often in this poem. The trees are green and make the world green, and this greenery represents new life. This new life and growth do not develop under sorrow, and the poet uses this to prove her point. Melancholy does not belong in a place of such beauty, with crisp air, leaping fire, and coursing rivers. Everything has its own role in nature, and thus man has a role to play as well. Man is intrinsically related to nature and has a place in its stability and beauty.
There is strong imagery used in “Does not the wind blow, / Fire leap and the rivers flow?” The activity on Earth directly contrasts the stagnancy of gloom. The world is moving, growing, and full of vigour. Man deserves to be full of this kind of energy as well, and not entangled in sorrow.
Away, Melancholy | Analysis, Lines 8-17
The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
All things hurry
To be eaten or eat.
Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
He is an animal also
With a hey ho melancholy,
Away with it, let it go.
Humanity is compared to animals, to show that men and animals are not so different, and both deserve to enjoy the lives they live. The diligent ant spends the whole day working, and remains occupied and productive. This extends to the whole world, as every living thing busies itself with something or another, and end up as either predator or prey. They are occupied in the business of survival, and man is not necessarily any different. Man busies himself with many things as they live through the cycles of life. Humanity feeds itself, humanity builds relationships with one another, and humanity faces loss.
Man has the same rights nature has provided to an animal, so melancholy must depart. “hey ho” is an exclamation, and can represent weariness or happiness. In this context, it represents both, as man is weary of the melancholy in his life and is joyous when it flees. It is a feat of strength to push away the feeling that does not belong and to find positivity in the darkness. Man is no outcast, and does not deserve to be wrapped in the gloom of sadness, and should instead have the strength to find the silver
Though the poem does not have a structured rhyme scheme, the poet employs rhyme sometimes. This can be seen in “meat/eat”, “also/go”’ and “hurries/bury”. The refrain “away, melancholy” continues to be repeated, emphasizing the need to find the positive side of existence, and not get stuck in pessimistic thinking.
Away, Melancholy | Analysis, Lines 18-27
Man of all creatures
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
Into the stone, the god
Pours what he knows of good
Calling, good, God.
Away melancholy, let it go.
Man is in no way lesser than all the creatures that Mother Nature so graciously cares for, but is better. The poet does not purely compare animals to humans and leave it at that, as she explains that humanity is superior. Man has something that animals don’t have, as humanity is the only one who actively takes action to be good. His raising of a stone is a conscious action, and it is this capability for free will and decision making that separates man from animal.
Raising a stone usually has a negative connotation, but this is juxtaposed with the act of man filling it with goodness. The first “god” that is mentioned refers to the man himself, as he pours his goodness into every action he undertakes. Inherently, man is good, and all their actions are reasonable and full of goodness. This “good” that they pour into their deeds is credited to God. The poet says that God is a concept created by men, and all the good that they do is a reflection of God. The stone that they raise can be used as they wish, and the religion that they follow make them do good.
This stanza has many interjections of the refrain “Away melancholy”, as if it is in the background as a constant thought in the poet’s mind, as she wants to move on, to feel the positivity and warmth that life brings. It is a constant drum, a never-ending desire, the right of humanity.
Away, Melancholy | Analysis, Lines 28-36
Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Saying, Can God
Stone of man’s thoughts, be good?
Say rather it is enough
That the stuffed
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
The poet also addresses those who insist on playing the “devil’s advocate” and find criticism in everything that exists. She tells them not to try disproving this by bringing up all the bad that exists. Many people use the inadequacies of their surroundings to enforce further negativity and use this to bring doubt in the minds of the people. There is no gain from pointing out the disease and suffering to say that God does not exist, and one should instead be satisfied with the goodness that does exist despite these terrible things. The poet tries to reinforce that existence of adversity is not proof of the lack of a higher power. The good of man exists despite the unpleasantness, and this is by the hand of God.
Thus, melancholy must go away. Here, it also seems as though the poet is no longer only addressing the feeling of melancholy, but also the sect of people who actively encourage it. The poet condemns those who find negativity in everything and motivates humanity to look for positivity even under duress, and not to give up on finding the good that exists in the world.
Away, Melancholy | Analysis, Lines 37-48
Beaten, corrupted, dying
In his own blood lying
Yet heaves up an eye above
Cries, Love, love.
It is his virtue needs explaining,
Not his failing.
Away with it, let it go
At the end, the poet continues to give reasons for why men deserve tranquility and an escape from the suffering of the world. The evolution of man is not stagnant, and humanity is always yearning for growth. They aspire to be good, to love deeply, to develop and learn, yet they are twisted and corrupted. Their “Sigh” represents how man can give up on this, but never do. They sigh at their lack of ability to accomplish what is needed, and even on their deathbed still cry out for love, for tenderness, for goodness.
“It is his virtue needs explaining, / Not his failing.” means that man should not be judged according to their failures, but according to their goodness. The poet reminds us to look at humanity in a good light and cast our eyes away from those who make it worse. One should concentrate on the people who strove to grow and make the world a better place. These people sacrifice themselves for the betterment of others and lay dying in their own blood, still crying out for a better life for others. They call out to love, asking for humanity’s goodness to survive. So, melancholy has no place here. There is no space for loss, for failure, for emptiness. Away, melancholy, as man does not deserve to suffer through you.