The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As the title suggests, “Letters to a Psychiatrist” is a series of letters in verse. They are six in number, written to Marynia F. Farnham, the author and psychiatrist to whom A Durable Fire: New Poems, the collection in which these poems first appeared, is dedicated. As a sequence of poems, these six letters in verse, though varied in length and form, move from Christmas, 1970, the time of the first poem, through Easter, 1971, the time of the fifth poem. The movement of the sequence is at once linear and circular. The first-person narrator, a patient of Marynia the psychiatrist, is modeled on May Sarton herself, a poet/artist who, while singing songs of praise to Marynia, moves from a state of suicidal depression to a state that is more whole, conscious, and integrated by the poem’s end, an action of change made possible by the vehicle of the accepting and skilled therapist.

The eulogy to Marynia begins with “Christmas Letter, 1970.” Consisting of five numbered parts, the numbers provide slight shifts to the ongoing, interior lyrical narrative, an internal dialogue from the “I” of the poem to Marynia, sometimes referred to as “she,” sometimes addressed directly by name, and sometimes addressed as “you.” In this first poem, Sarton establishes Marynia metaphorically as an “angel” of wisdom, someone so gifted in her profession that she allows those wounded ones, like the narrator herself, to go deeply into themselves to begin the process of healing. The second poem in the sequence, a sixteen-line poem with four stanza breaks entitled “The Fear of Angels,” continues the eulogy to the psychiatrist. The poet expands the angel metaphor: The psychiatrist is described as one whose brightness and almost-divine presence allows the patient to drop her defenses in order to go deeper into herself.

“The Action of Therapy,” the third poem, is similar to the first poem in structure, a long poem in verse divided, in this case, into six parts. Sarton begins this poem...

(The entire section is 823 words.)