I Am Alone

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Marvell's To His Coy Mistress - A Psycho Sexual Study
Pralay Mohan Ray
Of all the critical approaches to literature the psychological has been one of the most controversial, the most abused and for many readers the least appreciated. Yet, for all the difficulties involved in its proper application to interpretative analysis, the psychological approach can be fascinating and rewarding.

In the general sense of the term, there is nothing new about the psychological approach. As early as the 4th Century B.C., Aristotle used it in setting forth his classic definition of tragedy as combing the emotions of pity and terror to produce catharsis. The 'complete gentleman' of the English Renaissance, Sir Philip Sidney with his statements about the moral effects of poetry was psychologizing literature, as were such Romantic poets as Coleridge, Wordsworth, and Shelley with their theories of the imagination. In this sense, then, virtually every literary critic has been concerned at sometime to some extent, with the psychology of writing or responding to literature.

During the 20th Century, however, psychological criticism has come to be associated with a particular school of thought, the psycho analytic theories of Sigmund Freud (1856 - 1939) and his followers like Jacques Lacan (1901 - 1981) the currently most significant of these followers. The foundation of Freud's contribution to modern psychology is his emphasis on the unconscious aspects of the human psyche. A brilliant creative genius, Freud

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provided convincing evidence, through his many carefully recorded case studies, that most of our actions are motivated by psychological forces over which we have very limited control. In 'The Anatomy of the Mental Personality', Freud discriminates between the levels of conscious and unconscious mental activity. Apart from this discrimination, he further emphasises that all human behaviour is motivated ultimately by what we call sexuality. Freud designates the prime psychic force as 'libido', or’ sexual energy'.

Keeping this view in mind, we may proceed a step further while re-reading Marvell's ‘To His Coy Mistress’ as a study of psycho sexual approach in poetry. Before narrowing down to Marvell's 'To His Coy Mistress', one of the most celebrated erotic poems in English literature, we may look into William Blake's 'Sick Rose', an exemplary of sexual implications- from the Freudian perspective. Blake’s 'Sick Rose' is a richly symbolic poem with overt sexual implications. The rose is a classic symbol of feminine beauty. But this beauty is being despoiled by some agent of masculine sexuality, the worm symbol of death or decay and also of the phallus (Worm = Serpent = Sexual instinct).

"O Rose, thou art sick!
The invisible worm
That flies in the night
In the howling storm."

Images of night, darkness and howling storm suggest attributes of the unconscious or 'id' as in the forest of Young Goodman Brown.

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The second stanza sets forth in rather explicit images the idea of sensual destruction. In short, Blake's poem is a vaguely disturbing parable of the death instinct, which psychoanalysts affirm is closely conjoined with sexual passion. The sharp juxtaposition of 'Crimson joy' and destroy (coupled with 'bed' and 'his dark secret love' suggests that Eros, unmitigated by higher spiritual love, is the agent of evil as well as mortality.

"Has found out thy led of Crimson joy;
And his dark secret love
Does thy life destroy,"

We see a similar juxtaposition in Andrew Marvell's ‘To His Coy Mistress’. The speaker begins his proposition of love by stating an imposs ible condition; "Had...
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