A Psychoanalytical Perspective on Oswald’s ‘Dart’ (Bite-Sized Study Guide)


Approaching Oswald’s text, Dart, from a psychoanalytical perspective means its aesthetic intentions become secondary to the analysis of repressed emotions. In order to decipher the river’s voice, the reader must acknowledge that the subject of the poem, the river Dart, has its own consciousness. Oswald intended the text to ‘be read as the river’s mutterings’[1].

Oswald quotes Illyich, indicating ‘water always comes with an ego and an alter-ego’[2], encouraging a Freudian view. I have attempted to identify revealing imagery or statements in Dart which coincide with Freud’s claims. I questioned the river’s sex and motivations. I wondered what ‘unsatisfied wishes’[3] the river might have, and how its phantasies might ‘[correct] reality’[4]. Oswald describes a dreamer that ‘secretly sleepwalks’[5]. This statement confirms that pursuing repressed desires is shameful and should be hidden from others[6]. Staying ‘out all night’[7] implies rebellion. He has ‘dreamed [himself] bare’[8], now ‘clothed only in his wings’[9]. This could be a reversion to childhood freedom in play[10], mixed up in earlier imagery of ‘[flapping] seagulls’[11]. It could warn that he is vulnerable to the whims of the unconscious mind and whilst dreaming he cannot repress his desires/fears.

As the dreamer is male, these are sexually orientated (confirmed later as he wakes ‘twice in a state of ecstasy’[12]). Oswald identifies ‘dreamers of every kind’[13], including ‘till-workers, thieves [and] housewives’[14], which correspond respectively with the ego, the id and the superego. It is significant that the id’s attempts to attain something desirable are suppressed by the controlling forces of ego and superego. Others include ‘prisoners on dream-bail’[15] (repressed feelings allowed freedom) and ‘children with no parents’[16] (suggesting the superego cannot dictate action). During this poem, ‘the river’s dream-self [walks]’[17].This shows that the personified river can dream, too, and express its repressed desires, secrets and memories, although they are disguised behind an ‘incentive bonus’[18].



[1] Alice Oswald, ‘Foreword’ in Dart (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pg iii

[2] Oswald, ‘Foreword’, pg i

[3] Sigmund Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, in Art and Literature: Jensen’s ‘Gradvia’, Leonardo Da Vinci and Other Works, trans. & ed. by James Strachey (Hammondsworth: Penguin Freud Library, vol. 14, 1985), pg134

[4] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg134

[5] A. Oswald, Dart (London: Faber and Faber, 2002), pg27

[6] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg133

[7] Dart, pg27

[8] Dart, pg27

[9] Dart, pg27

[10] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg139

[11] Dart, pg27

[12] Dart, pg28

[13] Dart, pg28

[14] Dart, pg28

[15] Dart, pg28

[16] Dart, pg28

[17] Dart, pg28

[18] Freud, ‘Creative Writers and Day-Dreaming’, pg141


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