The Freudian Symbolism in A Song Concerning Rhenish

The Freudian analysis has been widely applied to poetry by many scholars lately. Psychoanalysis mainly concerns the human psyche which includes id, ego and superego. As the unconscious of people and/or the hidden state of mind include many unresolved conflicts, desires, fears, etc, it reveals itself in humans’ behaviors.

In literature, psychoanalytic criticism works on characters’ core issues and how a character deals with them by using his defense mechanisms. According to many Freudian analysts, poetry is analyzed by applying psychoanalytic concepts which examine poems like dreams, and it is a kind of self-revelation of the poet and/or the speaker of the poem.

The word choices and language are profound when poems are analyzed. In this paper, it is aimed to psychoanalyze A Song Concerning Rhenish by concentrating on displacement, one of the defense mechanisms used by the speaker with respect to phallic symbols and the womb imagery.

The Freudian analysis is a school of criticism which examines humans’ attitudes and the way people behave.

By analyzing unconscious, Freudian analysts aim to uncover core issues such as fear of intimacy, fear of abandonment, low self-esteem, etc.

Core issues are known as one’s negative self-beliefs which last throughout one’s life. People try to restrain these core issues in their unconscious by subconsciously using defense mechanisms. Defense mechanisms are the methods people use to keep the content of the unconscious undercover (Tyson 15).

There are several defense techniques such as denial, avoidance, selective perception, displacement, etc. used by people to keep the content of the unconscious.

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Displacement is the most commonly known and carried out defense mechanism. According to Lois Tyson, displacement is “taking it out” on someone or something less threatening than the person who caused our fear, hurt, frustration, or anger. (15)

In other words, when one cannot states his ideas to the one that is guilty of his anger, but states to a less threatening one instead. To illustrate, when one is reprehended by his father, but he cannot answer to his father. In substitution for, he beats his pet. Keeping this in mind, in this essay, A Song Concerning Rhenish will be discussed through using displacement by focusing on the speaker regarding male and female imageries.

To you, and not Love, O immortal Father Rhine,

I dedicate my rhyme and metre!

A kiss I acknowledge to be sweet; but wine

Like yours, Father Rhine, is sweeter (1-4).

It is important to state that the poem A Song Concerning Rhenish starts with “To you, and not Love, O immortal Father Rhine, I dedicate my rhyme and metre!” and there is a literary device called apostrophe here. The speaker addresses to a river God which he calls Father Rhine, but he also points out the word “not Love”.

So, it can be said that the speaker has the fear of intimacy. He has been hurt by one of his beloved ones. By emphasizing the addressing “O immortal Father Rhine”, he uses displacement to keep this core issue in his unconscious. He senses that Father Rhine is less threatening.

Also, the use of the phrase “Rhine” can be considered as a female imagery in the poem, since it is a sustainer of wine for him. “A kiss I acknowledge to be sweet;” He has experienced frustrated sexuality in his subconscious. Repressed sexual desires appear subconsciously in this very line.

It seems that the id of the speaker has been suppressed by the social norms, rules, regulations, guilt, shame, etc. “But wine like yours, Father Rhine, is sweeter” is emphasized through pointing out displacement. Wine is expressed as a defense word or addressee instead of love to keep or control his sexual urges.

In addition to this, the Freudian analytic approach contains phallic symbols and womb imageries. They are deeply analyzed in the context of a poem while applying the psychoanalytic criticism to it. Phallic symbols can simply be defined as the objects resembling to the penis.

The womb imagery can be described as the objects resembling to the vagina. In this sense, A Song Concerning Rhenish includes many words which carry these attributions. As follows:

And I feel as merry as a roe on the brink

Of a sun-lighted fountain dancing (5-6).

In this context, it is credible to think that some expressions uttered here imply the sexual imageries. To illustrate, “a roe on the brink” refers to the womb imagery, because “brink” carries femininity in the sense of resembling to the vagina. It can be thought as similar to the clitoris. Also, “sun-lighted fountain dancing” may be considered as a phallic symbol because of the shape of it, it erects, it is dancing.

I am a humdrum soul until treated a cup,

And my visage has a puttyish color (9-10).

These lines could be analyzed as the self-revelation of the speaker of the poem. He states that he has a very monotonous life and nothing can cheer him up without a cup (glass) of wine. His face is completely pale. It can be said that he is very much confined to the regulations of the society.

Superego strictly forbids his desires to be uncovered, and the speaker yearns for drinking. There are so many unresolved conflicts in his subconscious, so it is believed that he is suffering low self-esteem. Here:

But hand me the decanter and I soon flare up (11).

As it is known that the content of the unconscious is full of desires, fears, etc, hence, people cannot simply reveal it. It could be perceived from one’s behaviors. “Hand me the decanter” could refer to a key to open the subconscious in a sense.

“I soon flare up” mostly shows that the speaker desires to lose his conscious and starts talking gibberish. This gibberish mentions the revelation of the undercover id. Furthermore, “the decanter” is considered as a phallic symbol in this context.

The decanter is full of wine and is ready to be drinking, as the speaker states. Next, it could be stated that the manifest content of A Song Concerning Rhenish is mostly the speaker lauds the Rhenish wine. The latent content is considered to be the speaker’s sexual frustration. As it stated above that displacement is used as a defense mechanism by the speaker, the most significant example is seen in the following lines:

O, what, after all, were this planet, let me ask, /But a stupid concern and a meanish,

If we couldn’t now and then get our fingers round a flask / Of that jolliest of beverages, Rhenish? (17-20).

It is clearly delineated that the speaker has undergone many hardships in his life. The world has become totally meaningless for him unless drinking the Rhenish wine. Displacement serves as the defense in his unconscious, since he has the fear of abandonment as a core issue.

He is deeply afraid of not having the Rhenish wine. He chases the meaning of life with it. Therefore, the appreciation actually causes the fear to lose what he values. In this sense, the speaker reveals that the Rhenish wine is invaluable for him, if it is lost and there will be nothing to be worth. Besides, it is thought that “fingers” refers to male imagery. “Fingers” are on action to cuddle the flask.

They erect to grasp the flask. “A flask” can be used as a womb imagery in which its shape resembles to the vagina, and it is on active duty. It is full of wine ready to drink. More importantly, “Rhenish” means the wine that the speaker admires to drink. He believes that it sustains life for him. From this point, it can be considered that the poet feels desperately alone that nothing can jolly him up but wine.

The Rhenish wine has become a less threatening issue rather than facing life’s difficulties. It is thought that in order to hinder anxiety to occur, as it is known that the content of the subconscious reveals through behaviors, he defends it by conveying displacement as a defense mechanism.

What is more, it is inferred that being drunk with this wine is more acceptable for the speaker than being fully conscious in terms of displacement. Since “flaring up” may refer to total intoxication, he uses it in order to prevent from anxiety.

If beggars, we are lifted to the thrones of kings,

If bards, to the throne of Apollo (23-24).

It is mentioned that the word choices are very significant for examining the poem. These two lines uttered by the speaker clearly show how one feels and/or imagines after drinking the Rhenish wine. Here, using the word “beggars” refers the incomplete self, because the meaning of the word indicates lack of opportunities in this life. He does not hold a thorough sexuality in his life.

“To the thrones of kings” reflects his overflow desires to attain a better sexuality. He endeavors for becoming more active in his life by emphasizing “kings”, since it is considered that he could be in the lack of sexuality. Besides, it could be said that “thrones” displays a phallic symbol in the poem, because it erects. Later on, it is known that Apollo is the god of poetry.

The reference to Apollo could be examined in a way that the speaker longs for revealing his unresolved sexuality repressed by superego. In this sense, it can be assumed that the speaker expresses his feelings by the least menacing two people, because he fairly knows that he could not obtain such sexuality.

When it comes to the last lines of the poem, it is understandable that the speaker intends to disclose the deliciousness of the wine he consumes. As follows:

This liquor is an exorcist of hippishness and pain (25).

An indubitable panacea (28).

The language becomes more important while analyzing this line. Here, “liquor” can be associated with men’s ejaculate in one sense. In his subconscious, the relaxation that the wine or liquor provides to him is similar to ejaculation. And, “an exorcist of hippishness and pain” can be considered in a way that he relieves of anxiety while drinking the Rhenish wine. “Exorcist” could be meant releasing his sexual desires subconsciously.

“Hippishness and pain” are two contradictory words used here. They match the unresolved conflicts in his unconscious. He deeply suffers from lack of sexuality and exorcises the wine to substitute for it. From this very line, it can be interpreted that the wine is perceived as a less threatening consumption than facing the frustration of sexuality. It is given as an illustration of displacement.

Additionally, “an indubitable panacea” seems to be the remedy of the wine. But, it clearly indicates the thwarting of the sexual yearning. He gravely tries to endure the need of sexuality. Instead of it, the Rhenish wine becomes the panacea. As it is noted above that there are some male imageries pointed out in the poem. In these lines:

And very, very long on its vine-covered hills

May the cherishing beams of the sun dance! (31-32).

The penis imagery features here with the phrase “very long on its vine-covered hills”. Hills that resembles to a penis are covered by vines which look like pubes. They are in erection just like an erectile penis. Furthermore, the womb imagery is seen through the expression “the cherishing beams of the sun dance”.

Even though it is believed that sun is a female imagery in the psychoanalytic criticism, “the beams of the sun” is delineated as cherishing and dancing, therefore, it features a phallic symbol. They are on active duty.

The Freudian analysis principally deals with the human psyche consisted of three main units id, ego, and superego. The analysts concern about the human behaviors by which the content of the subconscious reveals itself. Core issues are one’s unknown negative self-thoughts.

Hence, people use defense mechanisms to control these core issues. As it is thought that poetry is examined just like dreams, it includes the manifest and latent content. Therefore, the language and words used in the poem become crucial while analyzing it.

Also, phallic symbols and womb imageries are considerably significant. Thinking these in mind, A Song Concerning Rhenish is an outstanding poem which provides a wide range of observations of the psychoanalytic criticism.

The poem seemingly interests the relaxation of drinking the Rhenish wine and how it gives pleasure to the one who consumes it in terms of the manifest content. While analyzing the poem in terms of the latent content, it is perceived the speaker’s sexual frustration and suppression he feels.

It sounds that the speaker extols the Rhenish wine, but he subconsciously uses the wine as less threatening than his frustrated sexuality. This poem is analyzed through applying displacement to examine the speaker’s defense mechanism.

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The Freudian Symbolism in A Song Concerning Rhenish. (2019, Dec 03). Retrieved from

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