More and more lately, as, not even minding the slippages yet, the aches and sad softenings,
I settle into my other years, I notice how many of what I once thought were evidences of repression,
sexual or otherwise, now seem, in other people anyway, to be varieties of dignity, withholding, tact,
and sometimes even in myself, certain patiences I would have once called lassitude indifference,
now seem possibly to be if not the rewards then at least the unsuspected, undreamed-of conclusions
to many of the even-then-preposterous self-evolved disciplines, rigors, almost mortifications
I inflicted on myself in my starting-out days, improvement days, days when the idea alone of psychic peace,
of intellectual, of emotional quiet, the merest hint, would have meant inconceivable capitulation.
The first time I read “Repression,” I didn’t know what it meant, but I knew I liked it. Once I had ran my eyes over it several more times, I was struck with a pang of recognition, more serene than ecstatic: here is a work of immense and immediate power.
I don’t want to spoil that gradual epiphany for anyone patient enough to read over “Repression” several times, so I’m not going to post any additional commentary on the poem. The only slight direction I will give is to keep the title “Repression” in mind, and to keenly trace the poem’s line of thought, knowing that it is a single sentence.
As a side note: in the famous mirror scene of Spike Lee’s 25th Hour, the character Jacob Elinsky, an introverted, tightly restrained professor, is heard reading “Repression” to his class. This is certainly no accidental detail of David Benioff’s script, and it should give you some clues about the poem as well as Philip Seymour Hoffman’s character in the film. The powerful (and profanity-laden) scene is below.