Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“Letters to a Psychiatrist” is a poem about the interior journey, a theme that has occupied Sarton in her novels, fiction, and poetry. While “Letters to a Psychiatrist” explores the unique relationship between psychiatrist and patient, it also explores the human journey of suffering, pain, depression, and loss as well as the human journey of growth, love, and transcendence. Although the patient/narrator is modeled on Sarton herself, it is most important to realize that any poem, if it works at all, should not require an exhaustive search into the poet’s own life and psyche to be understood, for good poetry speaks of the largesse of the human experience, however idiosyncratic the subject or even the poet may seem. However, because Sarton’s life and art are so closely related, her themes can be better understood by looking at a few of her own words.

In Journal of a Solitude, Sarton writes, “Here in Nelson [New Hampshire] I have been close to suicide more than once, and more than once have been close to a mystical experience of unity with the universe.” This preoccupation with both the realm of suffering and the realm of transcendence, the mystical realm, is what, most of all, informs these poems. Though Marynia F. Farnham was Sarton’s real therapist, readers will realize, if they look at the poems themselves rather than Sarton’s life, that Marynia must also be seen as a facet of Sarton herself and, by implication, as a facet of the feminine, if not the divine feminine, in every person.

Though the decision to exclude talk about the relationship between Farnham and Sarton in Journal of a Solitude was left to critic and editor Carolyn Heilbrun, Sarton herself argued, “There are still many people who...

(The entire section is 719 words.)