WHAT THING HAS MY SOUL LEARNED?

Lately I have begun discussing little-known poems that one does not find in the modern college anthologies, poems that have virtues of one kind or another, however simple those virtues may be.

Margaret Widdemer (1884-1978), once wrote a poem called Prescience.  On reading it, I immediately thought of Carl Jung, and of his contention that modern humans are cut off from the “soul,” from the unconscious mind that is a forgotten treasure house.  The unconscious is much more ancient than the conscious mind, and it knows things the conscious mind does not even suspect.  It is the controlling force, when the conscious mind thinks it is controlling.  And anyone who pays attention soon finds, as Jung writes, that he “is not the master in his own house,” meaning that his actions are determined not so much by what happens in the conscious mind as by what is in the unconscious.

Here is Widdemer’s poem:

PRESCIENCE

I WENT to sleep smiling,
I wakened despairing–
Where was my soul,
On what terror-path faring?
What grief shall befall me,
By midnight or noon,
What thing has my soul learned
That I shall know soon?

The poet was wiser than most people today.  She realized that the unconscious speaks to us through the language of dreams, and that a dream — even one remembered only by the impression it leaves rather than its details — may have great, even prophetic significance for the conscious mind.

That  is why Jung urged modern people to pay attention to their dreams, to write them down, to draw or paint them, to bring them out of the shadowed unconscious into the daylight of the conscious mind, so that modern man would not lose touch with his “soul.”

The poem is, incidentally, from a book published in 1919 called The Old Road to Paradise.

The poem has  a delightful pattern of rhythm, but Widdemer has used it here for  deeper purpose.  It reminds me strongly of the old German folk song:

Ich hab’ des Nachts geträumet
Wohl einen schweren Traum.
Es wuchs in meinem Garten
Ein Rosmarienbaum.

Last night I dreamed
A very oppressive dream.
A rosemary bush
Grew in my garden.

Ein Kirchhof war der Garten,
Das Blumenbeet ein Grab,
Und von dem grünen Baume
Fiel Kron und Blüten ab.

The garden was a churchyard
The flower bed a grave,
And from the green bush
The crown and blossoms fell off.

Die Blüten tät ich sammeln
In einem großen Krug,
Der fiel mir aus den Händen,
Daß er in Stücke schlug.

I gathered the blossoms
In a great jug
Which fell from my hands
And broke to pieces.

Draus sah ich Perlen rinnen
Und Tröpflein rosenrot.
Was mag der Traum bedeuten?
Herzliebster, bist du tot?

From it ran pearls,
and rose-red drops.
What might the dream mean?
Beloved, are you dead?

It is remarkable how attuned both Widdemer’s poem and the folk song are to the notion that our unconscious is far more knowing and wise than we as “thinking” beings.

David

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