Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

There is another ambiguity of word meanings: “Dying” probably does not mean physical death so much as it does mental or emotional or spiritual death. Whether one smothers in pointless words or becomes violently psychotic, one’s identity is lost.

Graves had a curious attitude toward his war neurosis as it related to his poetic powers. Although he was acquainted with and much influenced by a prominent Cambridge neurologist and psychologist, W. H. R. Rivers, Graves avoided actual treatment for his war neurasthenia. Rivers was a Freudian psychoanalyst and a specialist in that kind of neurosis as well as in the relationship between the troubled subconscious and poetic creativity.

While Graves did not go into psychoanalysis, sometimes called the “talking cure,” he believed, at least for some years, that writing poetry was a way of working out one’s psychological problems. He believed that a poem must originate as an internal conflict of opposing forces, which one seeks to resolve in the act of expressing them. Thus, poetry might serve as a therapeutic exercise and might also help the reader who shared the same internal conflicts.

Of possible relevance to this particular poem, Graves worried at times that if he actually did cure his psychological difficulties, he might no longer be inspired to write poetry. Thus, writing poetry as a “talking cure,” if actually successful, might deliver him into the stagnant, dead sea...

(The entire section is 489 words.)