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Jones Very’s “Soul-Sickness”

Updated on October 6, 2017
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Poetry became my passion, after I fell in love with Walter de la Mare's "Silver" in Mrs. Edna Pickett's sophomore English class, circa 1962.

Jones Very


Brief Biography of Jones Very

On August 28, 1813, Jones very was born in Salem, Massachusetts, to Captain Jones Very and Lydia Very, two first cousins who never married. As a poet, Very has received scant attention, yet his poetry is now becoming widely anthologized. His works do deserve attention and appreciation for their spiritual value as well as for the finely crafted skill they demonstrate.

Very's father, Captain Very, spent little time with his family, but when the younger Very was nine years old, the sea captain did take his son on a voyage to Kronborg Castle, on which Shakespeare modeled the castle of Elsinore in The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark. This voyage greatly influenced the young Jones Very, who later in his life would write many sonnets that are obviously inspired by the Shakespeare sonnets.

Harvard Graduate despite Poverty

Despite growing up in poverty, Jones Very was a good student and was accepted by Harvard, from which he graduated second in his class. He decided to become a Unitarian minister/poet and became engrossed in his studies. He read with great interest the poetry of the Romantics both British and German, and he became totally enthralled by the works of that great bard known as William Shakespeare.

Very enjoyed Lord Byron but for a short while, later rejecting Byron as he grew deeper in his faith. His mother had embraced atheism, a stance which Very vehemently rejected, and he could not abide even the questioning of a divine force, as he had found happening in the works of Byron.

Spiritual Transformation

Before he graduated from Harvard, Very underwent a transformation that has been variously labeled crazy and eccentric, and biographer Edwin Gittleman explains Very’s state of mind this way: "During this period he purchased his ticket to the ascetic train which was to carry him to the end of the line, the eventual obliteration of self and immersion in the will of God."

Very became so entrenched in his claims of holiness that he alienated many of those who had been his admirers. Emerson felt he had taken the basic ideals of Transcendentalism too far, and Reverend Upham had Very committed to McLean Hospital in Charlestown. He was soon released because the hospital administrators realized they could not change him, and they also insisted that he was not dangerous to himself or others.

Very and Emerson

As Walt Whitman had done, Jones Very sought assistance from Ralph Waldo Emerson, the transcendentalist master, who appreciated Very's unique abilities. Very enlisted Emerson's help in editing his collection of essays and poem to ready them for publication.

Although Very was reluctant to adhere to Emerson's suggestions, Emerson did, in fact, do his part in aiding the budding writer to complete his volume, which appeared under the title, Essays and Poems by Jones Very.

The volume includes Very's essays, “Shakespeare” and “Hamlet.” Emerson reviewed the collection in the Dial, but it received little attention.

Commentary on Jones Very's Poem, “Soul-Sickness”

Jones Very's poem, "Soul-Sickness," is an Elizabethan (Shakepearean or English) sonnet.

First Quatrain: "How many of the body's health complain"

The speaker observes that humanity will of grumble about their physical well-being, when in reality the problem is psychological, not physical. A restive soul suffers from "some secret pain" of which even the sufferer is unaware.

Second Quatrain: "Vain would we seek, by the physician's aid"

The speaker then plainly avers that despite seeking help from a physician, the human sufferer will find that he trouble that resides in the soul, and the root cause of that difficulty and its eventual "cure" reside solely in the mind.

Third Quatrain: "To higher nature is the soul allied"

The speaker reveals that the soul is, in fact, bound to the human beings' "higher nature"; and that means that nothing on the earth, physical plane can assuage its pain. One looks in vain for soul satisfaction on the material level of being.

Couplet: "Whether in sunny clime, or sacred stream"

The dreams of humanity amount to little whether one carts one's physical encasement around from a sunny climate to an arid environment or whether one merely wishes for medicinal improvement.

The speaker has clearly staked his claim on divine healing for the body, mind, heart, and soul. He reports that only the "sacred stream" holds to cure for all levels of malady which each human being must face on a flawed and dangerous material level of being.

Reading of a Very poem

© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes


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