Resurrecting the Shadow

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“If the shadow’s gifts are not acted upon, it evidently retreats and returns to the earth. It gives the writer or person ten or fifteen years to change his life, in response to the amazing visions the shadow has brought him—that change may involve only a deepening of the interior marriage of male and female within the man or woman—but if that does not happen, the shadow goes back down, abandoning him, and the last state of that man is evidently worse than the first.

All literature, both of the primitive and the modern peoples, can be thought of as creations by the “dark side” to enable it to rise up from earth and join the sunlit consciousness again.

Many ancient religions, especially those of the matriarchies, evidently moved so as to bring the dark side up into the personality slowly and steadily. The movement started early in the person’s life and, in the Mysteries at least, lasted for twenty to thirty years.

Christianity, as many observers have noticed, has acted historically to polarize the “dark personality” and the “light personality.” Christian ethics usually involves the suppression of the dark one. As the consequences of this suppression become more severe, century after century, we reach at last the state in which the psyche is split, and the two sides cannot find each other. We have “The Strange Story of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.” The dominant personality in the West tends to be idealistic, compassionate, civilized, orderly, as Dr. Jekyll’s, who is so caring with his patients; the shadow side is deformed, it moves fast, “like a monkey,” is younger than the major personality, has vast sources of energy near it, and no morality at all. It “feels” rage from centuries of suppression.

How did the two persons get separated? Evidently we spend the first twenty or twenty-five years of life deciding what should be pushed down into the shadow self, and the next forty years trying to get in touch with that material again.

I don’t understand the return of the shadow at all well, and everything I say here is speculation. But it seems the shadow energies need special channels in order to return.
Eliot’s sharp griefs, coming first in his marriage, and followed then by his wife’s insanity, are linked with the rising of much shadow energy in him, but none of that violent anguish appears in Stevens.
In Stevens shadow material rises in perfect serenity, associated with the awakening of the senses, especially of hearing and smell. Our senses do form a natural bridge to our animal past, and so to the shadow. The senses of smell, shades of light and dark, the awareness of color and sound, so alive in the primitive man, for whom they can mean life or death, are still alive in us, but numbed. They are numbed by safety, and by years inside schoolrooms.
Rilke’s work moves on, shifting to deeper and deeper marriages, over wider and wider arcs, and we notice that he was always ready to change his way of living at a moment’s notice if the art told him to. He looked one day at a statue for a long time, an old statue centered around ecstatic Apollonianism, and saw that the shape was alive not only in the head parts, but in every square inch of the body, throughout the chest and stomach, all of which dived down toward the genitals: every inch is looking at you, he said. Out of that he drew the conclusion that by tomorrow morning he would have to make some changes in the way he lived.
I recall teachers at college laughing at Yeats for a remark he made in his journal during his twenties, something like: It seems to me my rhythms are becoming slack; I think I had better sleep on a board for a while. But that says the same thing as Rilke’s poem.

Wallace Stevens was not willing to change his way of life, despite all the gifts he received, and all the advice he read in his own poems. He kept the house fanatically neat, evidently slept in a separate bedroom for thirty or forty years, made his living through the statistical mentality, and kept his business life and poetry life separate—all of which amounted to keeping his dominant personality and his shadow personality separate in his daily life.

If the shadow’s gifts are not acted upon, it evidently retreats and returns to the earth. It gives the writer or person ten or fifteen years to change his life, in response to the amazing visions the shadow has brought him—that change may involve only a deepening of the interior marriage of male and female within the man or woman—but if that does not happen, the shadow goes back down, abandoning him, and the last state of that man is evidently worse than the first. Rilke talks of the shadow retreating in this poem:

Already the ripening barberries are red,

and the old asters hardly breathe in their beds.
The man who is not rich now as summer goes
will wait and wait and never be himself.
The man who cannot quietly close his eyes
certain that there is vision after vision inside,
simply waiting until nighttime to rise all around him in the darkness—
he is an old man,
it’s all over for him.
Nothing else will come;
no more days will open;
and everything that does happen will cheat him—
even you, my God.
And you are like a stone that draws him daily deeper into the depths.”

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