In first reading -- memorizing! -- some Theodore Roethke poems, I had no idea he was crazy. Let me soften that. He was suffering from schizophrenia of a kind.
None of the poems say that to me. They're observant, grounded, solid. No extravagance, no wildness.
That idea held throughout my reading of 'In A Dark Time', housed in a volume where critics laid out their 'takes' and Roethke had a last say. I remember nothing written by any of them on the issue of insanity.
So, even when the poem itself reads, What's madness but nobility of soul/At odds with circumstance, I take that as a comparative expression, as something nearer to what we, the sane, might imagine than what he means us to understand by the poem.
He pushes on, then, soon, to what might be the start of a transformation, pressing the membrane of 'circumstance' to find more room:
A man goes far to find out what he is --
Death of the self in a long, tearless night,
All natural shapes blazing unnatural light.
Was I instructed at the time to liken this to Teresa of Ávila, to Juan de la Cruz? Somehow my memory connects these.
Roethke's last stanza:
Dark, dark my light, and darker my desire.
My soul, like some heat-maddened fly,
Keeps buzzing at the sill. Which I is I?
A fallen man, I climb out of my fear.
The mind enters itself, and God the mind,
And one is One, free in the tearing wind.
This so obviously wants to read as a mystic experience. Do we reduce it to neurology?
Whether or not such experience might not occur if certain medications were present (or would occur if certain others were), should we eliminate the 'phenomenological authenticity' of it?
Our history is filled with myth. Our lives are fuller for it.
There's always a price. We can settle the bill by selling our bodies as meat. We can also contract to pay it as adventurers to the end.