Psychoanalysis of Sigmund Freud is a psychic form of literary criticism that has found its way to literature. Research attempts to link the psychoanalysis to the author or an interesting character in a piece of literature. The aims and objectives of the criticism revolve around therapeutic nuances that are very similar to the work of Sigmund Freud, Interpretation of Dreams. The major aspects that emerge as critical in the analysis dwells on thoughts and behaviors that fictional characters exhibit. In poetry, the analysis attempts an outlook of a poem’s structure. According to Jacques Lacan, the language structure and the unconscious stream are alike (Freud, 2004). The application of this criticism draws a shift from content emphasis to the fabric of artistry in literary creations. This essay finds this theory useful in exploring the poem Sestina by Elizabeth Bishop. The literary criticism touches on the poetic structure, the author’s background factors, and subtle elements of the poetic content. The next paragraph is an attempt to explore the life of Elizabeth Bishop as a way of understanding her works.
As a product of a dead father and a hospitalized mother, Elizabeth lived with her grandparents. She moved from one place to the other because of the attempt to help her through her childhood. She got sick at some point. One factor that she attributes to the relationship with her relative is the fact that she was just a guest. Her mother went mentally ill and did not see much of her child. The relatives felt pity for her and tried their best to help. She occasionally lived with her grandmothers from the paternal and maternal sides. In the course of her life, she tries to draw a piece of her life with the grandmother in the poem, Sestina.
The details of the poem relate closely to a different poem In the Village. The descriptions are akin to a traumatic life. The manner that the poem unwinds depicts a central way of dealing with trauma for Elizabeth Bishop. The title of the poem bears a semblance to the relative nuances of figurative structure. The title reveals a great deal of the 39 line poetic form that entails seven stanzas. The structure makes the poem to serve as a complainant of fate. The critical elements of the poem reveal a sign of deprivation that tells of a child’s inner stream of thoughts. The repetitive elements of the piece trail a harsh note that fuses with melancholy to create a resonance.
According to Freud, the mind always creates alternative means of showing urges, yearnings, and desires. These emotions may not be appropriate to the societal standings. In the poem, Bishop creates a haunting picture of their relationship with the grandmother. The interaction is typical of a gloomy autumn evening. The unconscious part of Elizabeth epitomizes the manner that family member and relatives share in long buried systems of unarticulated sorrows. The solace lies in the discretion of their secrets and self-knowledge. The poetic structure and the sestina semblance do not create an abstract tectonics. The emotions and raw feelings that emerge in the poem fuse with the melancholy of a deep-seated sadness. The readers understand the sadness authentically without any knowledge of the source. The psychoanalytic theory sheds some light into the source of the sadness as it emanates from the realms of a child. Children have a tendency that Lacan describes as abstract to reality. They can learn to accept the detrimental features of internal urges or hang on to abstract forms.
In the interpretation of Dreams by Sigmund Freud, the mind has both the conscious and the unconscious parts. Both parts work in certain ways to unveil a correlative manner of abstract representation of emotions. In the poem, a tension emerges in the brisk combination of different elements of understanding. Knowing the story and emotions is the critical part of analysis.
The poet uses a continual system of literary repetitions to convey the stream of thoughts that cascade her mind. The words almanac, stove and tears occurs repeatedly in the poem. According to Lacan, such concrete representations are unconscious images in the mind. The tears, for instance, represent the sadness that the child has experienced. A close study of Elizabeth’s life can probably relate the sadness to her lack of parental touch. She confides in her biography that she is more of a guest in her grandparent’s house. The sadness does not appear confined to Elizabeth. The teakettle and the tears also illuminate the grandmother’s sadness and sorrows. She hides them from the young child who is too wise to ignore. The stream of thought reveals that something tragic had occurred in the family. Perhaps a close family member had died. The grandmother does not want her granddaughter to notice the sadness.
She appears upset at the child’s drawing. The grandmother is aware of the tragic loss, probably in the child’s father. The child, seemingly too young to comprehend the loss, is aware of the sadness. Her sadness could be something more abstract. The stove appears numerous times to act as a distraction to the elderly woman. As a confirmation of Lacan’s view, some actions are a distraction of imminent feelings. The grandmother adds more wood in the stove to distract away from the pain. The picture that the child draws is a representation of internal strife. She cannot place the events of her life proudly without elements of sadness. The almanac appears to hover above the child and the grandmother. The symbolic representation of this motif lies in the recent event that just occurred. Apparently, the event is not open to any discussion by either the grandmother or the child. The almanac is a record of this event that stays on to torment the characters without going away. The contrite explanations of these archetypes tell of the early life of Elizabeth Bishop. The background of the writer just after her father’s death replays in the sestina.
In conclusion, a psychoanalytic criticism of the poem explores the various elements of the author and relates it to the actions in the poem. Elizabeth Bishop is keen on revealing the nuances of her early life and stream of thought with systematic knowledge of an adult. As a child, the author has no idea of the events that causes the grandmother real sadness. She has internal feelings that express her sadness at the sadness of the grandmother. She represents that in the drawing, which trips her grandmother. This tendency appears in the analysis of Freud. He found that the conscious mind has a unique means of performing tremendous changes on the unconscious matter. The final expression bears little resemblance to the cataleptic urge. This system forms literary criticism.
An Anthology of Twentieth Century Brazilian Poetry edited by Elizabeth Bishop and Emanuel Brasil, (Wesleyan University Press (1972).
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Kennedy, X. J. (1987) Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Drama, and Poetry. (4th ed.) (Boston: Little, Brown, & Co.) ISBN 0-673-39225-2
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