Journey to the Interior – Margaret Atwood – Analysis

Journey to the Interior

There are similarities
I notice: that the hills
which the eyes make flat as a wall, welded
together, open as I move
to let me through; become
endless as prairies; that the trees
grow spindly, have their roots
often in swamps; that this is a poor country;
that a cliff is not known
as rough except by hand, and is
therefore inaccessible. Mostly
that travel is not the easy going

from point to point, a dotted
line on a map, location
plotted on a square surface
but that I move surrounded by a tangle
of branches, a net of air and alternate
light and dark, at all times;
that there are no destinations
apart from this.

There are differences
of course: the lack of reliable charts;
more important, the distraction of small details:
your shoe among the brambles under the chair
where it shouldn’t be; lucent
white mushrooms and a paring knife
on the kitchen table; a sentence
crossing my path, sodden as a fallen log
I’m sure I passed yesterday

(have l been
walking in circles again?)

but mostly the danger:
many have been here, but only
some have returned safely.

A compass is useless; also
trying to take directions
from the movements of the sun,
which are erratic;
and words here are as pointless
as calling in a vacant wilderness.

Whatever I do I must
keep my head. I know
it is easier for me to lose my way
forever here, than in other landscapes

Margaret Atwood

Margaret Atwood is better known as a Canadian author of books rather than a poet. She is a prolific writer and very creative so it is interesting to look at this poem. 

S1 … This is obviously an internal journey within contrasted with travelling in the external environment. The first line states that there are ‘similarities’. The eyes define the scene as a wall to be broken … perhaps a ‘flat wall’ as the scene only comes ‘known’ when entered at a personal level. But what is found in S1 is that the environment is endless as ‘prairies’ and that it is ‘poor country’ and not easy going.

Well, to get to know yourself – who you really are – is perhaps a difficult and endless task. But this is the start of the journey so, hopefully, the country will improve with travel. It is interesting that the cliffs cannot be seen for what they are except at a very base level.

S2 … Destination is unknown except to be vague as a dotted line between points on a map. The endless light and dark could relate to both day and night as well as emotional highs and lows. I guess when we start any internal search we have little idea of what might be revealed … and again it is a difficult journey to untangle.

S3 … It is the small details in life that have internal effect. Small details can absorb much of our thinking if they have sufficient deep association. ‘A shoe among the brambles under a chair/ where it shouldn’t be’ – this implies an unfortunate meeting with another person – the ‘shoe’ indicating crossing another’s journey. White mushrooms are immature mushrooms and a paring knife is used to peel fruit to make it edible. What significance these hold for the poet is not known. You could of course liken the personal journey to that of fruit being made acceptable.

A ‘sentence crossing’ my path has double meaning – life as a sentence, and the written sentence of the poet that is now ‘sodden as a fallen log’ whereas yesterday it was more acceptable – ‘I’m sure I passed yesterday’.

S4 and S5 – this search for self is circulating into deep depression to the extent of self-danger. The poet knows within of this danger – ironic self knowledge given the circumstances.

S6 – There is no solution not from any words, not from the poet’s writing or from the Sun (whether or not indicating religious connotation). There is a cry for help.

S7 – The solution is internal – to stay focused and rational – ‘keep my head’  … a double meaning in a very real sense.

Here is a Wikipedia link  to Margaret Atwood.

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