Historically, an archetypal approach to poetry is derived from Sir James George Frazer’s work in comparative anthropology, The Golden Bough (1890; 2 vols.), 1911-1915 (12 vols.), and from the depth psychology of Carl Jung. Frazer discovered certain repetitive cultural patterns that transcended time and place appearing in widely different myths and literatures. Jung posited the existence of a collective unconscious within each individual, a racial memory that held a variety of archetypes. The archetypes or recurrent patterns and images had to do with birth, death, rebirth, marriage, childhood, old men, magnanimous mothers, heroes and villains, male and female, love and revenge, and countless others. A type of person, a type of action, a type of relationship were so embedded within an individual’s history that any new appearance was imbued with the force and richness of every past occurrence. When literature possesses such archetypes, its potency is magnified.
An archetypal critic of poetry can employ Jungian psychology as an extraliterary body of knowledge, in contrast to the archetypal criticism represented by Northrop Frye, in which archetypes do not refer to anything outside literature but to a larger unifying category within literature itself. Even though the term “archetypal” is relevant to both Jung and Frye, their critical intentions differ. A Jungian approach to poetry seeks to wrest meaning from the poem by referring specific...
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