“Sleepers Joining Hands,” the title poem of Bly’s 1973 collection, marks a departure from the type of poetry for which Bly had been known previously. His antiwar poetry, remarkable for his energetic, manipulative handling of the language of politics and political thought, had served as a training ground for the more mature, more personal poetry that distinguished this volume. Here language is used to uncover the truth of the psyche on a personal level. The use of Jungian psychology becomes more than a mere feature of the poetry; it becomes a central impetus—a tool for digging into the unconscious to discover the self.
The imagery of the poem is essentially autobiographical—recounting Bly’s days in New York reading poems by Rilke in solitude, recalling his relationship to his mother and his father, describing his life at home with his wife and children. To say that this poem is autobiographical is misleading, however, because the poem is not written in normative language but written instead in a crazy-quilt juxtaposition of images in a tone Bly calls psychic. The language in the poem is like the language of dreams—bits and pieces of memory alongside half-thoughts and inner, often unvoiced, fears.
The poem has been described by the critic Richard Sugg as an epic quest seeking selfhood, but to understand this quest, one must first turn to the ideas of Jung. Jung believed each personality was made of three features: the individual...
(The entire section is 583 words.)