Anne Sexton
Born in

Newton, Massachusetts, The United States

November 9, 1928

Died

October 4, 1974

Gender

female

About Anne Sexton

Anne Sexton once told a journalist that her fans thought she got better, but actually, she just became a poet. These words are characteristic of a talented poet that received therapy for years, but committed suicide in spite of this. The poetry fed her art, but it also imprisoned her in a way.

Her parents didn’t expect much of her academically, and after completing her schooling at Rogers Hall, she went to a finishing school in Boston. Anne met her husband, Kayo (Alfred Muller Sexton II), in 1948 by correspondence. Her mother advised her to elope after she thought she might be pregnant. Anne and Kayo got married in 1948 in North Carolina where it was still possible to get married before the age of 18. After the honeymoon Kayo started working at his father-in-law’s wool business.

In 1953 Anne gave birth to her first-born, Linda Gray. Two years later Linda’s sister, Joyce Ladd, was born. But Anne couldn’t cope with the pressure of two small children over and above Kayo’s frequent absence (due to work). Shortly after Joy was born, Anne was admitted to Westwood Lodge where she was treated by the psychiatrist Dr. Martha Brunner-Orne (and six months later, her son, Dr. Martin Orne, took over). The original diagnosis was for post-natal depression, but the psychologists later decided that Anne suffered from depression of biological nature.

While she was receiving psychiatric treatment, Anne started writing poetry. It all started after another suicide attempt, when Orne came to her and told her that she still has a purpose in life. At that stage she was convinced that she could only become a prostitute. Orne showed her another talent that she had, and her first poetry appeared in print in January 1957. She wrote a huge amount of poetry that was published in a dozen poetry books. In 1967 she became the proud recipient of the Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die (1966).

In March 1972 Anne and Kayo got divorced. After this a desperate kind of loneliness took over her life. Her addiction to pills and alcohol worsened. Without Kayo the house was very quiet, the children were at college and most of Anne’s friends were avoiding her because they could no longer sympathize with her growing problems. Her poetry started playing such a major role in her life that conflicts were written out, rather than being faced. Anne didn’t mention a word to Kayo about her intention to get divorced. He knew that she desperately needed him, but her poems, and her real feelings toward him, put it differently. Kayo talks about it in an interview as follows: “... I honestly don’t know, never have known, what her real, driving motive was in the divorce. Which is another reason why it absolutely drove me into the floor like a nail when she did it.”

On 4 October 1974 she put on her mother’s old fur coat before, glass of vodka in hand, she climbed into her car, turned the key and died of monodioxide inhalation. She once told Orne that “I feel like my mother whenever I put it [the fur coat] on”. Her oldest daughter, Linda, was appointed as literary executor and we have her to thank for the three poetry books that appeared posthumously.

Quotes by Anne Sexton

“Live or die, but don't poison everything... Well, death's been here for a long time -- it has a hell of a lot to do with hell and suspicion of the eye and the religious objects and how I mourned them when they were made obscene by my dwarf-heart's doodle. The chief ingredient is mutilation. And mud, day after day, mud like a ritual, and the baby on the platter, cooked but still human, cooked also with little maggots, sewn onto it maybe by somebody's mother, the damn bitch! Even so, I kept right on going on, a sort of human statement, lugging myself as if I were a sawed-off body in the trunk, the steamer trunk. This became perjury of the soul. It became an outright lie and even though I dressed the body it was still naked, still killed. It was caught in the first place at birth, like a fish. But I play it, dressed it up, dressed it up like somebody's doll. Is life something you play? And all the time wanting to get rid of it? And further, everyone yelling at you to shut up. And no wonder! People don't like to be told that you're sick and then be forced to watch you come down with the hammer. Today life opened inside me like an egg and there inside after considerable digging I found the answer. What a bargain! There was the sun, her yolk moving feverishly, tumbling her prize -- and you realize she does this daily! I'd known she was a purifier but I hadn't thought she was solid, hadn't known she was an answer. God! It's a dream, lovers sprouting in the yard like celery stalks and better, a husband straight as a redwood, two daughters, two sea urchings, picking roses off my hackles. If I'm on fire they dance around it and cook marshmallows. And if I'm ice they simply skate on me in little ballet costumes. Here, all along, thinking I was a killer, anointing myself daily with my little poisons. But no. I'm an empress. I wear an apron. My typewriter writes. It didn't break the way it warned. Even crazy, I'm as nice as a chocolate bar. Even with the witches' gymnastics they trust my incalculable city, my corruptible bed. O dearest three, I make a soft reply. The witch comes on and you paint her pink. I come with kisses in my hood and the sun, the smart one, rolling in my arms. So I say Live and turn my shadow three times round to feed our puppies as they come, the eight Dalmatians we didn't drown, despite the warnings: The abort! The destroy! Despite the pails of water that waited, to drown them, to pull them down like stones, they came, each one headfirst, blowing bubbles the color of cataract-blue and fumbling for the tiny tits. Just last week, eight Dalmatians, 3/4 of a lb., lined up like cord wood each like a birch tree. I promise to love more if they come, because in spite of cruelty and the stuffed railroad cars for the ovens, I am not what I expected. Not an Eichmann. The poison just didn't take. So I won't hang around in my hospital shift, repeating The Black Mass and all of it. I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift. Read more...
Anne Sexton
Topics: poetry