Questioning and poetry – the inner world of Margaret Little (part 2)

In this post I am continuing to look at Margaret Little’s poetry composed during her analysis with Donald Winnicott in the 1950s. So a poem in 1953 conveys some of the desperation of her breakdown, entitled Life-in-Death, or Death-in-Life [interestingly it includes religious imagery of the passion of Christ]:

I live among shadows

Unseeing, unhearing,

Unknowing, unthinking,
Unfeeling, uncaring.

All is unreal,

Chaos, deceit

I have no focus

No mainspring, no God.


Had I a framework,

A structure, a holding,

A scaffold, or cross,

There might thorns pierce me,

Thrust inward, infiltrate,

There might the chaos

Cling, focus, and form.

About this time Little went on holiday walking alone in the North of Scotland – prior to going she had ‘exploded’ at her mother which was an act of self-assertion but this was ignored by her mother ‘and made useless, her possession of me reasserted’. In her fury Little broke her ankle and after being hospitalised lost her mobility. ‘I suppose there was unconscious guilt about my verbal attack on my mother, my refusal of her demand, and the physical attack I had surely wanted to make but had turned against myself.’ Winnicott’s interpretation was to do with the break in the transference. Returning to analysis she writes: ‘I find I have no recollection of the content of the next year’s work … so I think I must have projected the confusion, etc. and D.W. must have taken it over … As I understand it now something had to be broken – to free me from my mother’s hold and to destroy finally the pattern of repetition.’

Over the next summer break Winnicott demands that she is hospitalized ‘to make sure I did not commit suicide’. ‘I went for him, wildly; I think I hit him, though I am not certain. He caught my wrists and held me, and was not hurt.’ In the hospital things went badly with Little smashing up a room and so she was moved to an open room in a locked ward and writes poetry. ‘I had clung to two things which later proved to be ‘transitional objects’, a handkerchief which D.W. had given me and a soft blue woolly scarf which I had liked and bought … here was the full ‘regression to dependence’ … the hospital care was total and interference minimal … the place went on being, and holding and looking after me…’

Mental Hospital

 This place is

So, full of faces;

They come too near –

I long to flee…


And the last verse:


This place is

Full of faces

And I can’t flee

For they’re all me!

  • [it’s worth remembering how different provision in a mental hospital was in the 1950s where in such an instance it could be seen as an asylum – a place of refuge and safety.]