I’ve read José Angel Araguz for what is now many years–and his essay below asks a fascinating question. Emily Dickinson would be the classic introvert, particularly compared to Walt Whitman. But what about you and me? I’m a sociable introvert. But I think my poetry is usually extroverted. Fun to think about.
What’s Poetry Got to Do With It?: Introversion/Extraversion
musings by José Angel Araguz
Episode 7: Introversion/Extraversion
In this episode I explore ways that the terms introversion and extraversion can be used as a lens with which to read poems.
The Introvert/Extravert Lens
The terms introversion and extraversion were first significantly put into use by Carl Jung and later popularized by personality tests such as the Myers-Briggs Type indicator. From there, popular culture has redefined the terms over time. In general, an introvert is someone who is more reserved and leans toward solitary behavior, while an extravert is seen as someone who is outgoing, talkative, and energetic. As with any set of categories, the terms are not strict; rather, it is best to consider them as making up two sides of a spectrum on which everyone exists leaning one way or another to varying degrees.
One of the things that helped clear this up for me was seeing how the terms played out in regards to recharging one’s energy. If at the end of the week, you look forward to going out and socializing, and actually come back from said outing recharged, you might be an extravert. Conversely, if you go out on the same outing and come back exhausted, no more recharged than when you started, you might be an introvert. Seeing my introverted tendencies as me meeting my needs (and not necessarily my being antisocial) did worlds for my understanding of myself as an introvert. It also helped me empathize with my more extraverted friends and see them as meeting their own needs as well.
For further clarification (and fun!), Buzzfeed has several quizzes and lists that can help you find out if you are more introverted or extroverted.
Inner & Outer Worlds
To return to Jung, his original concept of the terms had him regarding people as either focused on their inner worlds and thoughts (introverts) at the expense of losing touch with their surroundings, or focused on the external world and being active in it (extraverts) at the expense of losing touch with themselves.
One poet whose work reflects the complexity of the introvert-extravert/inner-outer world spectrum is Emily Dickinson. Due to having lived a life of isolation, Dickinson is often written off as an introvert. Lines like the following would in fact help make the case:
The Brain—is wider than the Sky—
For—put them side by side—
The one the other will contain
With ease—and You—beside—
The draw of these lines is how they take concrete things (brain, sky) and push them for the abstract meanings they imply. While on the surface the poem appears to be making a case for mind over matter, so to speak, a deeper reading shows something more akin to mind within matter. In one stanza, Dickinson does the poetic equivalent of pulling apart two strong magnets to show what lives between them.
In another poem, Dickinson does a reversal of these moves:
A sepal, petal, and a thorn
Upon a common summer’s morn—
A flask of Dew—A Bee or two—
A Breeze—a caper in the trees—
And I’m a Rose!
Here, the poem travels from the abstract act of naming physical things to the speaker announcing/becoming a rose. A sign of the transformation begins early in the second line in the form of sound, specifically the “z” sound (summer’s, breeze, trees, rose). As the poem develops, this sound travels parallel to the transformation implied in the words, and becomes its own physical presence, especially if read aloud.
In these two poems, one can see how the inner and outer world engage and impel one another, never cancelling each other out. In a similar way, one’s introversion never cancels out extraverted tendencies and needs.
Usually my introverted tendencies would have me continue with examples, ruminating over other poems and unpacking what I find there. I am going to push myself to look outward, however, and invite readers to share their thoughts in the comments regarding introversion and extraversion. I also encourage you to, in your writing, push past whatever type you see yourself leaning towards. If you write mainly about inner impressions, take a walk or describe the physical world around you. If you write mainly about the physical world, start with rhetoric or abstract thought. In either case, you might find yourself reflecting your true nature in a new and surprising way.