Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Darkest Pit: The Shadow in Wordsworth's Poetry

Academic journal article The Journal of Humanities and Social Sciences

The Darkest Pit: The Shadow in Wordsworth's Poetry

Article excerpt


This paper reads Wordsworth's poetry from a Jungian point of view, and asserts that Wordsworth's poetry focuses on the unconscious and its contents. Turning one's back on the unconscious leads to the development of the shadow. We also contend that Wordsworth seems to urge his reader to turn to the unconscious in order to integrate the shadow into the conscious-something which helps us have a more productive, empathic, and healthy life on individual level and more tolerant, understanding, and peaceful life on collective level.

Keywords·. Wordsworth, Jung, the unconscious, the darkest pit


The image of "the darkest pit" in the title of this paper, perhaps describes the unconscious in the best possible way-the depth and the darkness symbolize the unconscious.2 Its recurrence in various forms in Wordsworth's poetry gives the reader a feeling that he/she is voyaging through the dark world of the unconscious and is exploring its depth in order to bring the unknown contents to the known world of the conscious.

The most immediate content of the unconscious is the shadow which is born as a result of the individual's overdeveloped persona.3 For it is nature's law that where the sun is, there shall shade be; and by the same token, where the persona is, there shall shadow be. All that we hate and despise or what we do not want to be is what constitutes our shadow. 4 Since the shadow archetype exists in the upper layer of the unconscious quite immediate to the conscious, the process of individuation starts from our encounter with it.5 The shadow, being the undesirable dark side of our personality, is not publicly presentable. We push back any behaviour, action, notion, belief, or practice which our society considers "bad," "wrong," or "evil." This is why we keep such dark side of our personality hidden and suppressed; exposing it to the society tarnishes our public image, and disturbs our adjustment to our social norms. We don't allow this side of our personality to develop. Our constant suppression of the shadow eventually makes it negative which turns totally against us and erodes our persona by flooding all the external barriers. Instead of looking within ourselves and accepting our own weaknesses or the evil within, we go on projecting the evil onto others. In order to make our attitude positive, efficient, and productive, what we need the most is to pay serious attention to the neglected part of our own selves. This is more or less the attitude of the romantics for whom the dark or the invisible, the infinite or the unknown, which are the characteristics of the unconscious, is more important than the brighter and the visible in life. Their whole focus is to look within their own being or the unconscious and illuminate the dark side of themselves.6

Paying attention to the unconscious helps us focus on its contents, which invariably leads to coming to terms with oneself-something that a Jungian would call individuation. One explores and learns about the neglected aspects of one's being-some of the basic instincts that all humans overlook or even suppress to suit themselves to the immediate social environment around them. Thus while they shine from without, they cast a shadow of the bright face from within. The more one pursues the socially acceptable and desirable face, the darker the shadow becomes, and in the process one turns back on the unconscious. This overdevelopment of the persona makes one lopsided. Instead of accepting our shadow as part of our being, we turn against it, and want to eliminate it.

To be able to strike a balance between the outer and the inner worlds or the conscious and the unconscious, one has to look inside and integrate the suppressed aspects into the conscious. One has to learn to live with what is the undesirable, the unacceptable, the disgusting, the evil-something which is as much part of one's being or of a society as the desirable, the acceptable, the presentable, the good. …

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