Autobiographical by Eunice De Souza
This is a poem “Autobiographical” that is immensely multi-layered and attends to a number of issues that relate to personal vision and social expectation in modern life. Written in the confessional mode, “Autobiographical” presents a perspective of an angst-ridden individual who revisits her life through a series of telescopic images and metaphors. The style adopted for this poem is such that it makes use of the states of the speaker’s mind to bring snapshots from her life into the narrative. There is a deliberate selection process at work, whereby only certain aspects of her life are opened up for re-evaluation. There are many things about her life that remain outside the frame; yet, quite effectively, de Souza mirrors the mind of the speaker as a person who has been through different phases by concentrating on her perspectives on life, expectation and the world around her. In autobiographical writing, the management of chronology is one of the features that determine the sequence of events that are taken up for representation. In this poem, however, we do not quite get a linear view of things in the conventional sense, rather, a differently ordered structure that highlights situations from the speaker’s life. Thus, we have the divisions of enemy and friend, soul and body, the world and the self and in another frame there are the issues of love, marriage and jealousy which present her responses to these issues. Instead of describing events drawn from her life, the speaker asks us to consider her position and perspective in terms of specific situations. For instance, when the speaker says in the third line that she has “muddled through several affairs” she is referring to a much wider time span that what these few words would suggest, but in the poem it is confined to just the lines 3 and 4. The “affairs” have only affected her, “badly” is the word that she uses, but it is suggestive enough to highlight the fact that things have been difficult for her when it comes to relationships with men. In proper confessional mode, the speaker looks back over a long range of time, at least that is what the line implies when she admits: “I’ve learned almost nothing from experience.” This is a loaded line and can be approached also in terms of the ironic connotation that it hints at: that “experience” has taught her “nothing.” But, depending on the emphasis, the meaning can shift, because when we focus on the word “learn” then it could mean that she has learned at least that, that “experience” has nothing to offer. The multi-layered texture of the poem thus makes possible alternative approaches to the different issues that she raises: the most striking aspect of this process is evident at the end of the poem when she presents the “whole world” as an antagonist, and though she believed that she was being targeted, she found that she could actually get back to the “world” in same way, that she could “rip” it apart by challenging everything that was expected of her.
The entire poem is developed to arrive at this climax and the speaker builds it up through a series of contrasts that play with the opposition of expectation and response. She is derided by her “enemies” because she has thwarted the expected line, she has not got married. Her refusal to get married is seen by those who are critical of her as a sign of her jealousy for those who have made it ahead of her in the matrimonial race; and the understatement that she is not “entirely without talent” indicates that the few friends that she has recognizes her qualities. Facing a world that she sees as hostile, the speaker admits that she has even tried to take her own life, but even her suicide attempt did not follow the pattern, for, though she “tidied” her clothes, she did not leave any note. There is a surreal feel to the whole narrative that the speaker presents in the final lines when she refers to the “soul” reflecting upon her bodily state, but the fact that no autobiography can be written unless the author is in control of both the resources and in a physical situation to do so, this allusion must be seen figuratively. It is a form of critical distancing in which the self engages and looks back at life from a later situation in time. It is from such a situation that the speaker is able to assert in the concluding lines that she has given back to the world what it had held in store for her. The effect of the climax is thus realized through the gradual building up of images that show an individual attempting to come to terms with her experience by subjecting herself to critical scrutiny.
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