Anne Sexton is remembered today as a leader of the “confessional” poetry movement alongside other voices such as Sylvia Plath. Her work is emotionally poignant and often painful. She confronted her mental illness in a way that was still surprising for readers. Her work is just as powerful today as when it was written in the mid-1900s.
About Anne Sexton
- Anne Sexton was born in November of 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts.
- In 1948, she married Alfred Muller Sexton with whom she remained until 1973.
- Her first book was ‘To Bedlam and Part Way Back’.
- In 1967, she won the Pulitzer Prize for ‘Live or Die’.
- She committed suicide by locking herself in the garage with the car on in 1974.
- Her full birth-name was, Anne Gray Harvey.
- Sexton’s first child was born in 1953 and named Linda Gray.
- She received a Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, the Shelley Memorial Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship.
- Sexton co-wrote four children’s books.
- She suffered from post-partum depression after the birth of her second child.
- ‘After Auschwitz’ is a powerful reaction piece, written by a speaker who is filled with anger over the atrocities committed by the Nazis during the Second World War. She judges the men who did nothing in the face of the horrors of the Holocaust and then reigns herself back, hoping that God has not heard all that she’s said.
- ‘A Witch’s Life’ is a confessional poem that speaks on the difficulties of aging. The speaker looks back on her life and remembers a woman that she and the other children in the neighborhood used to call a “witch”. Now, she sees how unfair this was and even sees the features of the “witch” in her own life. Despite the process of aging, the poem concludes on a slightly more optimistic note.
- ‘For My Lover Returning To His Wife’ contains a mistress’s description of the relationship between her lover and his wife. The speaker describes the relationship that she thinks her lover has with his wife. She fits perfectly into his life and this worries the speaker. She’d like to play a more important role in her lover’s life but thinks perhaps that he should return to the woman he’s married to.
- ‘From the Garden’ expresses a speaker’s desire to take some time alone in the quiet of the garden with her partner. The speaker addresses her “beloved” and tells them that they need to come with her to see the flowers and the view from this more pleasant, natural place. There, they can contemplate life and perhaps renew their emotions for one another.
- ‘The Truth the Dead Know’ is a moving poem that describes the poet’s own emotions in reaction to the death of her parents. She talks about how she attended the funeral but after that had no desire to participate anymore in the ceremonies around death. She expresses the need to take some time away and heal.
Early Life and Marriage
Anne Sexton was born in November of 1928 in Newton, Massachusetts. Her full birth-name was, Anne Gray Harvey, and her parents were Mary Gray Harvey and Ralph Churchill Harvey. She had two older sisters and spent most of her youth in Boston.
As a young girl, she was enrolled in Rogers Hall boarding school in Lowell, Massachusetts, and then later at Garland School. Soon after this, she began work as a fashion model for Boston’s Hart Agency. In 1948, she married Alfred Muller Sexton. The couple remained together until 1973. Sexton gave birth to her first child, a girl named Linda Gray, in 1953.
Career and Mental Illness
In 1954, Sexton suffered her first manic episode. This was followed up with a second in 1955 after the birth of her second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton. She was suffering from postpartum depression and she had to be admitted to a neuropsychiatric hospital. It was here that she first began to write poetry after being encouraged to do so by her doctors. She also started keeping a journal and in it, she developed her mature writing style. Her first pieces were accepted by publications such as Harper’s Magazine andThe New Yorker.
She wrote about her psychiatric struggles and her first book, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, was published in 1960. During her lifetime her work was extremely popular and she was the recipient of awards such as the Radcliffe Institute Fellowship, Shelley Memorial Prize, and a Guggenheim Fellowship. In 1967, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die.
Later Life and Death
Throughout her life, she collaborated with a number of remarkable artists, including a jazz-rock group that added her poetry to their music. In 1969, Sexton’s play, Mercy Street, was produced.
On October 4, 1974, after having lunch with Maxine Kumin, with whom she co-wrote four children’s books, Sexton locked herself in the garage. She had put on her mother’s coat, taken off her rings, and started the engine of her car. She died due to carbon monoxide poisoning. She was buried at the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts.