Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

At the outset, “Free Union” appears to be a tribute of sorts to the poet’s wife, even though it has been pointed out that Breton was not married at the time he wrote the poem. There is an irony in that biographical detail, but the fact does little to help understand the poem—if it indeed can be or should be “understood” in a conventional way.

Some critics have interpreted the poem in erotic terms, seeing the imagery as a collective description of female sexuality and the sexual organ in particular. It has also been described as an impressionistic record of sexual intercourse, as a sexual fantasy, and as the recounting of a sexual dream. While it is tempting to follow this path, especially considering the Freudian overtones of Surrealism, the poem itself does not altogether support such a reading. For one thing, only a small section is devoted to “My wife with sex of seaweed and stale sweets.” For another, lines such as those lack eroticism.

Where, then, does the meaning lie? Because an attempt to explicate the poem would end in failure, perhaps another question ought to be asked: How does the meaning lie? Important in answering this question are the poem’s juxtapositions: for example, from beauty to ugliness—from the throat that “is a golden dale” to “the buttocks of sandstone.” The poet who views the world through a Surrealistic lens does not report on it in the ordered way a traditional poet might....

(The entire section is 449 words.)