The Poet is Always in Exile: Poetry and Mourning in Psalm 137

Rose Lucas


This paper engages with Psalm 137 as a literary text which foregrounds questions of desire and ambivalence as they are represented – and perhaps experienced – within a language of place. As well as expressing something vital about the historical and cultural experiences of socio-political power and resistance, it also argues that the Psalm provides insight into the formation of the individual, or the complex relations between subjectivity and speech, desire and place. Within a framework of psychoanalytic theories regarding mourning, lack and subjectivity, the paper considers ways in which this Psalm uses the poetic mode to comment upon both the specific role of the poet and the general place of language in the formation of subjectivity and culture. As an example of lyric art woven from a poetic language of metaphor, image and pulse, the poem/Psalm can be read as evocative of the tensions between notions of sacred place or home, and those of exile. It also highlights both the longings and the ambivalences between the voice which speaks in the now, forever oscillating between a debased and exilic here and an idealised, always unobtainable there, the place of remembered or imagined origin. In discussing the Psalm as paradigmatic of the position of language in relation to loss and subjectivity, the paper argues that it foregrounds the production of the poet, the speaking voice of articulation and synthesis which, paradoxically, can only emerge in the exilic valley of the shadow of death and fragmentation.


Psalm 137; mourning

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Bible and Critical Theory: ISSN 1832-3391