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Margaret Atwood's "Journey to the Interior"

Updated on May 18, 2013


Margaret Atwood's "The Journey to the Interior" is a monologue, the apt poetic form for introspection. It is a metaphysical poem with the recurring motif of 'journey' with Atwood that she explores in other works like "Surfacing". The interior aludded to in the poem is the psyche of the poetess. The poetess utilizes an extended metaphor here-The poetess's inner exploration stretches out to the journeying of the mountain. the use of the words "similarities" (line 1) and "differences" (line 20) shows contrast and allows the reader to make connections between the physical world and internal realm,and bridge the gap between connotation and denotation.


As one delves deeper into the mind, it stretches out into various directions -incomprehensible and inscrutable. A person with a firm faith can embark on the discovery of the self, and survive unscathed in the process. For the outsiders, the human mind is as limited as a two-dimensional picture "flat as a wall." The hills from the distance seem "welded together". But from near, the opening between them into breaks into vast prairies. Furthermore, it does not imply that the interior landscape or mind is uniformly fertile. It has its share of barren swamps that are capable of producing "spindly trees". The "cliff is not known as rough except by the hand." The world supposes that only tangible objects exist in this world. The unseen are unfathomable.

The travel is not easy going. It is not statistically correct and mathematically discrete. There are no fixed points to connect, dotted lines as in a map to trace the geography of a point. Or further, even to trace connections. It is beyond geometry too, in that it cannot be "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.

The poetess moves in the maze of tangled branches. She moves in dark and light hues and colours that define nothing but themselves, just like the self does. Significantly there are no destinations at the close of such a journey; for the journey itself is the destination.

The poetess then lists the differences between the journey to the interior and other typical journeys. This one does not depend on reliable charts as it traverses uncharted territory.

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

All the enlisted entities stand for domestic images that are superficial. The poetess signifies that nothing is superficial in the psyche. Nothing is as short-lived as the “lucent white mushrooms”. A sentence crossing his path in such an outward existence has no deeper meaning to him. It rather poses as an obstacle,”sodden as a fallen long” And it is familiar as it passed him yesterday also. While the truth is that everything produced by the mind is not static with reference to distance and time. While the first two stanzas allow us to investigate the features of the mind, the poetess awakens us to a more objective(exterior) view as she suddenly asks us:

(have l been

walking in circles again?)

A compass is useless; also

trying to take directions

Such ventures are fraught with unseen perils as “only some have returned carefully.” A compass is useless here. Neither visual truths (the erratic movements of the sun) nor auditory statements (words)are valid here .What is more important is keeping one’s own, without losing oneself

© Rukhaya MK 2012

The content is the copyright of Rukhaya MK. Any line reproduced from the article has to be appropriately documented by the reader. ©Rukhaya MK. All rights reserved.

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