Themes and Meanings

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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. Breton, at any rate, makes no attempt to organize what he sees, experiences, and feels. The materials that Breton uses, though, are not otherworldly; instead, the images he draws are quite concrete. Some are appropriate, some not—that is, if the poem were to be taken literally as a description of “My wife.”

Possibly the title, “Free Union,” holds a key to the abstractions, which will never form themselves into a tidy message or a universal meaning that readers often expect from poetry. If the poem was approached as a kind of sexual fantasy, then “free union” would stand for intercourse. Yet this use of the title borders on the simplistic and in a way maligns the poem. Maybe the free union takes place in the mind—both in that of the poet and the reader—and expands thinking beyond the ordinary, the commonplace, the mundane. The poem, a free union of imagery, may simply offer a feast for the imagination. Through the rhythmic rise and fall of the lines, the images stacked on one another, the incoherence, and the rich language, a poem such as “Free Union” finds its meaning in its form and its form in its meaning.

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Analysis