‘Away, Melancholy’ is a beautiful and emotional poem in which the poet conveys her argument for positivity in the face of sorrow, or specifically melancholy. Throughout, Smith uses powerful imagery that taps into multiple senses, in order to remind the reader of the innate beauty of the world they live in.
Explore Away, Melancholy
The poem takes the reader through the basic reasons why the speaker believes there’s no reason to feel melancholy. She taps into humanity’s basic, decent nature, its strength, and goodness. Humans, she reminds the reader, are also animals and are just as much a part of the instinctual natural world as an ant is.
In ‘Away, Melancholy,’ the poet explores the prominent theme of nature. This includes human nature/instinct and non-human nature. Throughout natural images, the poet sets the poem up to remind the reader of the basic beauty of the living world. She uses an ant, the wind, and the rain, as a way to bring someone’s melancholy back around reality. When the world spins on, she’s essentially asking, what reason do you have to feel sorrow? In an effort to connect the natural elements like wind, rain, and fire to the human experience, the poet brings in God, human decency, and strength. She ends the poem on a poignant note, suggesting that human goodness is far more powerful than human folly.
Structure and Form
‘Away, Melancholy’ by Stevie Smith is a nine stanza poem that is separated into stanzas of varying lengths. The first stanza is two lines, followed by three five-line stanzas, the fifth and sixth stanzas have ten lines, the seventh has four, the eighth: eight, and the ninth: two. These stanzas do not follow a specific rhyme scheme but there are plenty of examples of rhyme throughout the poem. For example, “blow” and “flow” in stanza two and “meat” and “eat” in stanza three. The same can be said about the meter. The lines are all visually around the same length but range in the number of syllables they contain.
Smith makes use of several literary devices in ‘Away, Melancholy.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, anaphora, and enjambment. The first of these, alliteration, is a common type of repetition. It is concerned with the use and reuse of the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “Fire” and “flow” in line four of the second stanza and “good” and “God” in line nine of the fifth stanza.
Anaphora is another kind of repetition. It occurs when the poet repeats the same word or words at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, the lines of the first stanza, both of which begin with “Away.” Another example can be found in the seventh stanza in which two lines start with “To.”
Enjambment is a formal device, one that occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between the first two lines of the third stanza as well as most of the lines in the fifth stanza.
Stanzas One and Two
Away with it, let it go.
Fire leap and the rivers flow?
In the first lines of ‘Away, Melancholy,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. She appears to be casting “melancholy” off. She’s willing it away with the effort of her words, asking herself, and anyone listening to “let it go.” The following stanza is used as a way to remind herself that things aren’t so bad, the world is still as it should be. The trees are green, the wind blows, and the rivers flow. The elements of the world are aligned and working just as they always do. This is something to take pleasure and comfort in. It should be enough to banish any sense of melancholy.
The ant is busy
He carrieth his meat,
In the third stanza, Smith’s speaker goes on, adding another nature-based reason why everyone should open their eyes to happiness and joy. There’s no reason to bask in sorrow or depression when the simple, beautiful processes of the world are playing out. For example, the ant carrying “his meat.” Everything, like the ant, is going about its business. It’s ready to “be eaten or eat.” The refrain of “away, melancholy” at the end of the stanza feels like an invocation of goodwill. It becomes a mantra.
Man, too, hurries,
Eats, couples, buries,
Away with it, let it go.
The fourth stanza connects the behavior of the ant and the broader animal world to the human world. Human beings are also going about their lives. They are hurrying and coupling. The speaker reminds the reader that humans are also animals and have instincts and simple joys to fill their lives with. The use of the musical “hey ho” in the fourth line means that the poet creates a perfect rhyme with “also” and “go” in the preceding and the following line. This lifts the whole tone of the poem.
Man of all creatures
He of all creatures alone
Raiseth a stone
Away melancholy, let it go.
The fifth and sixth stanzas are the longest of the poem. In the first, the speaker brings God, or the idea of a god, into the poem. She suggests that human beings have well imbued within their souls. She uses the metaphor of a stone, raised by God and humankind to a higher status. This is meant to remind the reader that there is more to life than whatever petty sorrows are bringing on a feeling of melancholy.
Speak not to me of tears,
Tyranny, pox, wars,
Stone of man’s good, growing,
By man’s called God.
Away, melancholy, let it go.
The sixth stanza transitions into first-person, using the pronoun “me.” She asks that no one talk to her of the terrible things in life or ask if God can be “good.” She wants everyone to know that it’s enough that humanity is good, or was made good. Or, depending on one’s interpretation of these lines, that humanity made a good God. These lines feel quite cyclical and the speaker appears to be taking comfort in that fact.
Stanzas Seven, Eight, and Nine
Beaten, corrupted, dying
Away with it, let it go
The speaker’s hope in life comes from the fact that there is love and that humanity aspires “To good” and “To love.” Even in the darkest moments of life, when one is dying inter own blood, humanity raises an eye to the sky and “Cries, Love, love.” There is no reason to delve into the failings of humankind, the speaker says. It’s more interesting to consider the depths of humanity’s goodness. That is where the true complexity and amazement lies. The final lines of the poem reiterate the first stanza and the refrain that’s structured the entire piece.
Readers who enjoyed this piece should also consider reading some of Stevie Smith’s other best-known poems. For example, ‘Not Waving But Drowning,’ ‘Come on, Come Back,’ and ‘The River God.’ The first, ‘Not Waving But Drowning,’ describes the emotional situation of a speaker whose true tribulations go unnoticed by all those around her. ‘Come on, Come Back’ the poet the reader into the future to examine themes of war, of suffering, and of human instinct, as it appears in the worst of times. Some other related poems are