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Reality vs. the Inner World

"What's madness but nobility of soul/At odds with circumstance?"
-- "In a Dark Time"

I find it hard to not connect these poems with the speaker's personal lives. With "Daddy" I couldn't help but connect the poem to Sylvia Plath's feelings about her own father, and with "In a Dark Time" I can't help but connect the poem to Theodore Roethke's battle with mental illness. I guess that's why they so often call these poets "confessional"; their personal lives very much inform their work. To be sure, there's much more to this poem than just a manic episode. I think everyone can relate on some level to feeling separated from themselves in some way or another. Everyone at some point must wrestle with their concept of identity. The speaker seems to be working out his sense of self against a backdrop of nature gone awry--"The day's on fire," the wall is "sweating", birds fly at night, and midnight comes "in broad day." This perfectly captures a feeling of losing one's bearings and not understanding the world around one. This is something anyone can feel, but like I said, I can't help connecting it to Roethke's personal battles with schizophrenia. That certainly is an illness that puts a person at odds with the surrounding world and causes them to become confused over what is reality. The fact that Roethke was able to tap into whatever personal feelings he had to so poetically capture this "dark time" elevates this from one person's experience to something more universal. A really bad day for anyone can seem to throw the entire natural world off-balance and call into question your sense of self.

Comments (3)

Aja Hannah:

I'm glad you were able to help shed light on what "In A Dark Time" was about. I had difficulty with this poem, but now that I think about it as a struggle with self-realization I understand.

As bad as it is for poets to have these sort of disorders, I feel that I am grateful they at least have a way to put it out there and create works of art that others can identify with. Without these problems, where would literature/poetry be today?

Andrew Adams:

I agree with you, after reading about the different poet's lives, those connections are hard to get away from. I feel that every writer, in whatever medium they choose puts a little bit of themselves into their works. While this poem could easily be attributed to Roethke's mental health problems, I do enjoy how it can be related to any individual, because confronting one's identity is such a universal topic.

Jennifer Prex:

I agree. I'll admit that I didn't see that connection before, but considering poetry isn't my strong point, that's not surprising. When I reread the poem after reading your entry, it made more sense. It does seem as if the poem is describing some form of mental disturbance. The narrator has everything confused. He doesn't even have a sense of identity.

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