An Open Letter to Everything
I wrote you last night but our letters must have crossed. I received yours this morning. Dear. I write you an open letter because nothing and no one that reads this is not you. In this I feel safe to tell you, dearly, what I must here in the privacy of the crowd.
That there is a machine the size of the world, called The World and it processes everything. When you are cold, The World fabricated your cold and so you remain cold. Everything, please take this blanket, no, I can see you already have one. Please accept, then, this kiss to your forehead. You've had one before, but here is one now.
Dear, you will be going away. I can tell, Everything, by the way you have become quieter since we were younger and, if you’ll forgive me, a bit strange. Perhaps you are, as I am, worried about your upcoming voyage and this is the cause of your removal and calm. Please cast these fears off unused. These fears are for me and not for you, Everything.
When you leave, you will cast yourself into The World and allow yourself the fortunes of its conveyors and inclines, their predescribed motions, the anonymity amid multitude.
Perhaps then, dear comrade, you shall stay with me? Not only for a day, of course, but I hope for a long while. While you stay, we shall sleep. We shall sleep anywhere, amid the fallen Orange-pippins, or under a kitchen bench, like pups of the same litter. We shall wake, there, amid the pippins and begin anew, in the stupefaction of a newly discovered existence, a new world. Perhaps we shall pick a quarrel and we shall laugh and joke, you and I, much and more yet, when you visit. If the weather is fair, we shall take our walk, and if it rains continually, we shall pull close before the fire while telling our heart pangs. The great river will run black beneath our window saying always, HASTE! YAHO! and carrying away our thoughts, and our days, and our nights, without stopping to notice such small things.
Dearest Everything, the machine is breaking down, a belt has loosened itself, the world is making too much noise. I fear the The World is in bad shape and is not a machine which fixes itself. Everything, are you? Enclosed, please find a flower and a leaf. I kiss you once more.
Simply I love you, friend. I understand you will be leaving soon and this brings grief to my table. My Dear, since you are going away, I too will go away, so please do come visit me at once. If you cannot come — I shall have a thousand regrets. But then again, I am depending upon you for my dinner.
Three kisses upon your eyes,
A History of Sadness
Sadness first appeared somewhere on the Iranian plateau in the middle of the Bronze Age.
Or, that is to say, the word from which we get sadness appeared then and there. But if we wanted to understand this history of a thought, we cannot literally unearth that thought mummified. Even if the brain’s delicate neural filigree preserved, nobody given a formation of neurons could divine the memory that arranged them so. The finest limestone couldn’t fossilize the record of an emotion.
But limestone can be carved and for millennia we have inked and scratched our sympathies on to stone, clay, tortoise shells, palm leaves, and 100lb high-gloss cover stock. Feelings and the words for feelings are deeply entwined. What we think and feel are what they are because language has given us the structure by which we think and feel them. And a word for sadness, unlike the feeling of sadness, can endure.
As cultures and languages spread across Europe and Asia for the next four thousand years, sadness traveled along — giving us various versions of sadness in French, Dutch, Irish, Lithuanian, Greek, and Latin. But as definitions changed and morphed over time, so did feelings and what we understand as sadness now is not what it was back then. What we know as sadness is the end member, an evolved form, and to understand what it is fundamentally we must try to figure out where it came from. If one traces sadness back through the minds of the Old Saxons, Old Icelanders, to the Goths and the Indo-Europeans, one finds the feeling that gives us sadness, the feeling that will eventually evolve into what we feel when we are sad, was connoted by the word sas or sat.
Sas evolved over time, branching off and taking various courses through history. In fact, sas still exists in some form in all those previously mentioned languages, but the way it evolved was different for each. Just as there was some common ancestor that evolved into dogs and pigs and whales and humans, sas exists in other languages, perhaps in initially unrecognizable ways. What makes sadness “morose” in English makes it “savory” in Latin, “nourishing” in Lithuanian, “agreeable” in French and, remarkably, both “deep red” and “dark blue” in German. If you find it hard to imagine a word that means both deep red and dark blue, remember that, because we do not have this word in our language, we may be unable to comprehend this.
What could possibly give all these meanings? Originally sas, the root of all these words, meant “to be filled”, as a celebrant after a feast or a river in springtime. The abstract concept of fullness gives us the saturation of the German colors, the satiation of the Lithuanian food, and the satisfaction of the French. Indeed in English, saturation, satiation and satisfaction, also come from sas.
Then to be sad, to feel sadness, is to be filled. Topfull and brimming. Sadness is not emptiness but completeness. When we are not sad, we are lacking. Sadness is surfeit.
If you doubt this, consider breadth of sadness’ meaning. The following are other, less common, but no less true definitions of sadness in English:
Satiety, weariness, fullness, soberness, staidness, seriousness, being settled, steadfastness, constancy, firmness, hardness, solidity, dignity, importance, gloom, valiance in battle, resilience, gravity.
Of a person: orderly, regular.
Also, of a person: trustworthy, wise.
Of thought: mature, considered.
Of consideration: serious, grave.
Of learning: profound.
Of truth: unmistakable.
Of objects: firmly fixed, stable.
Of objects: dense, massy, heavy.
Of the states of matter: solid (as opposed to liquid.)
Of soil: thick, heavy, and difficult to work.
Of numerous people: forming a compact body.
Of fabric: darkly colored.
Of a blow: forceful, vigorous.
Of sleep: sound.
Of fire: violent.
Of rain: violent.
Of dough: having failed.
Thoroughness, truthfulness, certainty.
All these are contained in sadness. The orderly person is sad, as is the trustworthy. Your dark coat is sad and sad enough to hold back the sad rain. When we gather together, we become sad and later, when we sleep sound, we will be sad. Profound, heavy, sober, orderly, steadfast and violent. Unmistakable. Filled, as eyes are filled with tears, as blue is filled with blueness.
Dave Snyder's poems have appeared in Denver Quarterly, The Iowa Review, The Seneca Review, Best American Poetry, Quarterly West and elsewhere. Dave has received fellowships and awards from the Illinois Arts Council, Writers @ Work, and the Jentel Artist Residency.