In the Fire

Anita Barrows in conversation with Krista Tippett from “The Soul in Depression,” Speaking of Faith (Feb. 26, 2009):

Suddenly, in depression you are ripped from what felt like your life, from what felt right and familiar and balanced and ordinary and ordered, and you're just thrown into this place where you're ravaged, where the wind rips the leaves from the trees, and there you are. Yeah. Very, very much the soul in depression.

And I think that all of the talk about, 'Oh, well, this will, you know, be really good for your soul or your character, this will make a better person of you,' feels like absolute rubbish when you're in the midst of the wretchedness of depression. But I think that in a way, I mean, it almost feels sort of physiological. If the soul were material, I think depression sort of works on it the way you could work a piece of clay, so that it softens and it becomes more malleable. It becomes wider. It becomes able to take in more. But that's only afterward. In the fire, what you get is the fire.

This is a poem called "Questo Muro." It is a phrase from a passage in Dante's Purgatory. Dante has been in the depths of depression, in the depths of the inferno, and he's now working his way out of it toward Beatrice, who is — you know, you could call her the soul or the anima. And he and Virgil are climbing the mountain, and all of a sudden they get to a wall of fire, and you can't go any farther unless you go through it. So this is my poem, and it really is a poem, I think, about finding the courage to persist, to go through that fire.

Questo Muro

You will come at a turning of the trail
to a wall of flame
After the hard climb & the exhausted dreaming
you will come to a place where he
with whom you have walked this far
will stop will stand
beside you on the treacherous steep path
& stare as you shiver at the moving wall, the flame
that blocks your vision of what comes after.
And that one
who you thought would accompany you always,
who held your face
tenderly a little while in his hands —
who pressed the palms of his hands into drenched grass
& washed from your cheeks, the tear-tracks —
he is telling you now
that all that stands between you
& everything you have known since the beginning
is this: this wall. Between yourself
& the beloved, between yourself & your joy,
the riverbank swaying with wildflowers, the shaft
of sunlight on the rock, the song.
Will you pass through it now, will you let it consume
whatever solidness this is
you call your life, & send
you out, a tremor of heat,
a radiance, a changed
flickering thing?