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Anne Sexton by Caroline Coan and Bryan Voit

Page history last edited by PBworks 13 years, 3 months ago
Anne Sexton (1928-1974) 





About Anne Sexton

Anne was youngest of three sisters, always craving attention.  Anne first began to write poetry at age 17; her mother, who had come from a family of writers, accused Anne of plagiarism, disbelieving that her daughter could have the talent to write such lovely poetry; which caused Anne to quit writing poetry.  Anne soon eloped with Kayo Sexton.  While Kayo was in the naval reserve Anne could literally not function, her life stopped completely.  Anne and Kayo had two children although she did not have a strong desire to be a mother.


In 1954, Anne began struggling with recurring depression and began seeking counseling.  Beginning in 1956, Anne’s mental condition worsened, leading up to her first psychiatric hospitalization and her first suicide attempt.  In December of that year, under the guidance of her psychiatrist she resumed writing poetry.  Finding therapeutic value in her writing, she enrolled in a poetry workshop.  She fell once again into a deep depression; Anne attempted suicide again in May, 1957.  Again hospitalized, she continued to write poetry and in August received scholarship to a writers' conference.  Anne published several poetry books along with some children’s books.  During this time Anne has been seeing a psychiatrist quite regularly.  Mental illness was very prevalent in Anne’s family history.


Despite her success as a writer, poet, and playwright, Anne's personal life took a plunge in 1973, where she was hospitalized three times and divorced her husband.  Anne’s last books are entitled The Death Notebooks and The Awful Rowing Toward God.  Anne committed suicide in her garage in 1974 by way of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The tragic end she brought to her life was the result of several years of battling depression and dissatisfaction with her place in life. 




After Auschwitz



as black as a hook,

overtakes me,

Each day,

each Nazi

took, at 8:00 a.m., a baby

and sautéed him for breakfast

in his frying pan.

And death looks on with a casual eye

And picks at the dirt under his fingernail.

Man is evil,

I say aloud.

Man is a flower

that should be burnt,

I say aloud.


is a bird full of mud,

I say aloud.

And death looks on with a casual eye

and scratches his anus.

Man with his small pink toes,

with his miraculous fingers

is not a temple

but an outhouse,

I say aloud.

Let man never again raise his teacup.

Let man never again write a book.

Let a man never again put on his shoe.

Let man never again raise his eyes,

on a soft July night.

Never. Never. Never. Never. Never.

I say these things aloud.

I beg the lord not to hear.




Analysis of "After Auschwitz"


When I first read the poem After Auschwitz, by Anne Sexton, I thought it was a poem that reflects the horrors of the Nazi regime in Germany. But, after I read it few more times, I began to look at some of the images that she was conveying. The lines “a baby sautéed for breakfast” and “picks at dirt under his fingernail” or “scratches his anus.” These are not pleasant sites to visualize in one’s mind. Sexton could be saying in the line “death looks on with a casual eye,” she is telling us that with death all round us, we do not even bat an eye over the deaths that are happening at time she wrote this poem, which the Vietnam War was raging, and I think this war influenced her. Having done some background information on Anne Sexton, she uses the references to the Nazi regime in other poems. And according to David Trinidad, he states in his article, “Two Sweet Ladies”: Sexton and Plath’s Friendship and Mutual Influence, he suggests, “Sexton, separated from her husband…divorce poems is littered with dreadful Nazi-isms.” (Trinidad) I think that Trinidad is right in his assessments that she was angry with her marriage ending and express those feelings in her poems. In the poem, I think she was not literally talking about her husband, but in a more general way of all of mankind. She does not make the reference to men but uses the word “man.” Sexton also thinks that man is a beautiful creature that can have a very dark and evil side to them. I am referring to the lines “Man is a flower” and “Man is a bird” or “miraculous fingers.”  But then Sexton shows the evil side with, “should be burnt” and “full of mud” or “but an outhouse” when referring to man. The last soliloquy, Sexton, is wishing for the destruction of all man, but at the end the most powerful line is “I beg the lord not to hear.” Even though she prays that man should be destroyed, she still thinks man is a wonderful creature and should continue to live.       



Listen to Sexton reading "Her Kind": http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15297


Her Kind


I have gone out, a possessed witch,

haunting the black air, braver at night;

dreaming evil, I have done my hitch

over the plain houses, light by light:

lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.

I have been her kind.


I have found the warm caves in the woods,

filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,

closets, silks, innumerable goods;

fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:

whining, rearranging the disaligned.

A woman like that is misunderstood.

I have been her kind.


I have ridden in your cart, driver,

waved my nude arms at villages going by,

learning the last bright routes, survivor

where your flames still bite my thigh

and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.

A woman like that is not ashamed to die.

I have been her kind.



Analysis of "Her Kind"


“Anne Sexton liked to arrive about ten minutes late for her own performances: let the crowd work up a little anticipation. She would saunter to the podium, light a cigarette, kick off her shoes, and in a throaty voice say, "I'm going to read a poem that tells you what kind of a poet I am, what kind of a woman I am, so if you don't like it you can leave." Then she would launch into her signature poem, "Her Kind". (Middlebrook xix)


What is her kind?


Before I read Middlebrook’s biography on Sexton I didn’t know where to start with this poem.  Afterwards, I feel this poem could be speaking about a few different things.  Sexton wrote this poem about herself. One plausible scenario is that Sexton could be speaking about her infidelities or just the low points of life in general.  She likens her crimes to that of a witch.  In this analogy one can assume Sexton does not believe she is wrong even though society may view her actions as wrong (such as not really wanting to mother her children); should not be ‘burned at the stake’.  To me the second stanza is about her being a conventional mother.  She speaks of fixing suppers for the worms and elves; this could be her children and husband.  She does not speak highly of being a mother.  In the third stanza she talks about high society things such as being driven around.  She also states “my ribs crack where your wheels wind”; to me this has sexual undertones which supports my theory on infidelities.  Each stanza ends with “I have been her kind” as if to say she’s been there, done that and moved on.  Overall I believe the message is even high society women have low class moments.



Interesting Link


Listen to Sexton’s musical group “Her Kind” (note, her group is called “Her Kind” not the 'song' that is performed): http://www.dianemiddlebrook.com/sexton/asaudio.html

"Her Kind" was a changing group of musicians organized by Sexton with Robert Clawson between 1968 and 1971. This recording of Sexton performing "Woman With Girdle" was made at an unidentified live performance of "Her Kind."






Kennedy, X.J., Gioia, Dana.  Literature An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, Drama and Writing.  New York: Person Longman, 2007.


Middlebrook, Diane Wood.  Anne Sexton.  Boston Mass.: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1992.


Middlebrook, Diane Wood.  "Anne Sexton Audio Files." DianeMiddlebrook.com.  Feb 2007. 2 May 2007 <http://dianemiddlebrook.com/sexton/asaudio.html>.


Poets.org.  May 2007.  The Academy of American Poets. 4 May 2007.  <http://www.poets.org/viewmedia.php/prmMID/15297>.


Sexton, Anne.  The Complete Poems. New York: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981. 


Trinidad, David. “Two Sweet Ladies”: Sexton and Plath’s Friendship and Mutual Influence

            The American Poetry Review, Philadelphia: Nov/Dec 2006. Vol. 35, Iss. 6; pg.21.       





Comments (5)

Anonymous said

at 9:26 am on May 8, 2007

You have found some really interesting information about the poet, which helps to understand her poems. When I first read "Her Kind" I was also a little confused, but your explication included important background information that influenced a better understanding. -Krystlynn Cumiskey

Anonymous said

at 9:35 am on May 10, 2007

Wow,the work that was put into this page is incredible!!! I must say that her poem After Auschwitz has a lot of history and emotions behind it. I find it to be an eye opener to the history of these people. This is definately something that will never be forgotten. Nice work on the analysis.

Anonymous said

at 9:58 am on May 10, 2007

Wow, all I have to say is wow.

Anonymous said

at 9:58 am on May 10, 2007

Your page looks great! I like the picture because i can like picture her saying the things she does in her poems, its funny!
In your explinations I REALLY like how you took lines from the poems and explained them! Sometimes, it's easy to get the overall meaning of the poem, but the details and word meanings are left out and not really understood. I really liked it, it lookes like you put a lot of time into it! good job!

Anonymous said

at 10:01 am on May 10, 2007

I liked the poem "After Auschwitz". Ypu gave a very in depth analusis of the poem. The intro really helps understand the poet. You guys did a really good job.

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