For T.S. Eliot and certainly other poets, writing poetry can indeed be an escape from emotion and personality. For others, poetry is actually a way to process their emotions and demonstrate who they are. Let’s take a look at the poems of three very famous poets to test Eliot’s claim.
Thomas Hardy’s “The Darkling Thrush” is a great example of poetic escapism, if you will. He develops a persona that is not his own and has this character present emotions designed to develop the mood and theme. In stanza one, he uses the hyperbole that “all mankind” has sought to escape the haunting dreariness of life by staying close to hearth and home. His message, then, is that all humans--not merely Hardy himself--have feelings of hopelessness. Certainly his word choice is designed to create shivery emotions in readers: the “spectre-grey” frost upon the “desolate” earth, the personification of “The Century’s corpse” upon the land, the metaphor of the sky as a “crypt” and the “wind his death-lament.” In the end we have this happy bird, symbolizing the determinedly hopeful person that the persona wishes he could be. Given the style of the poem, which is told by a fictitious persona, it is clear that Hardy is not presenting his own emotions and personality but developing a work of art to send a message to his audience.
However, very often poets do use their art form to process difficult emotions that are inextricably tied to their own personalities and lives. Sylvia Plath is a prime example of a poet who wrote herself onto the page. Her poem “Metaphors” is her attempt to deal with her own pregnancy through a series of gradually darkening metaphors that form a riddle. At first she uses whimsical imagery to describe her swelling belly, such as “a melon strolling on two tendrils.” Her self-view quickly changes, however, as she feels like a means to an end, “a cow in calf.” Plath admitted that she felt the societal pressure on a woman to marry and have children yet experienced some resentment over what childbirth did to her body and feared that it would end her career. In “Metaphor,” she openly expresses her own emotions when she gives the defeatist analogy, “I’ve eaten a bag of green apples, / Boarded the train there’s no getting off.” She has eaten not just apples (perhaps alluding to Snow White and all the poisonous consequences she endured) but a whole bag of green ones. Plath felt sick physically and sick at heart; her future was a riddle from that point forward. Clearly this is no invented persona. Plath wrote the poem as way to process her own dark emotions concerning childbirth and motherhood.
One more demonstration of a poet putting his own emotions and personality into his poetry comes from Wilfred Owen in “Dulce Et Decorum Est.” Most of his poems stem from his experiences in the British Army during WWI. He writes himself right into this piece as he uses a simile to depict how, “coughing like hags, we cursed through sludge.” These are raw emotions; the soldiers feel like old, worn-out crones, and they literally swear with frustration as even the mud seems bent on bringing them down. As Owen describes the graphic horror of watching a fellow soldier poisoned by gas warfare, we realize that this is likely a traumatic event he personally witnessed. “He plunges at me, guttering, choking” is a vivid, haunting image. We see Owen himself trudging behind the wagon they throw the dying man on. Owen charges us with a sense of conviction when he says that we would not call war glorious if we could see this man’s “white eyes writhing in his face” or see “the blood / Come gargling from the froth-corrupted lungs.” The shocking imagery and the symbolism of the white eyes juxtaposed with the bloody mouth demonstrate the poet-soldier’s view that war makes victims of innocent young men. These are his emotions; this poem was his way of dealing with the nightmare of war. This is Wilfred Owen’s personality on the page.