A contemporary American poet, Anne Sexton has indispensable position among renowned poets. She used her personal despondency to enthuse her poetic works and was best recognized for the inexorably autobiographical traits of her poetry. She had suffered severe mental ailment lifelong with an obsession of suicide and used to receive therapeutic treatment from a psychiatrist three times a week in most of her life (Kendall, 2005). The present paper presents her biographical niceties and impact of her psychosomatic dilemmas on her life and writing career. She created highly emotional, self-reflexive verses, which were characterized by worries of her childhood guilt, psychological sickness, motherhood, and female sexuality. These poetic expressions are notable for its dazzling imagery, artistry, and outstanding rhythm.
Anne Sexton, born on November 9, 1928, in Newton, Massachusetts, was the youngest of three daughters born to wealthy parents. At the age of 6, Anne attended public schools and continued till age of 17. After that her parents sent her to Rogers Hall, a preparatory school for girls, in Lowell, Mass because they observed her behavior was quite different from normal child and they had a hope that she will come out from her wild nature and become normal and mentally sound women. At this time, Anne first started to compose poetry, which was published in the school yearbook. But she got negative feedback from her mother who was from writer’s family, indicted Anne for breaching of copyright and did not believe that her daughter has hidden talent to compile such a touchy, inspiring and lovely poetry. With some minor changes in her distorted feminine personality, Anne attended the Garland School in Boston, a finishing school for women. One can always find that there must be some inspiration or major facts behind an individual which leads to success. In case of Sexton, her write ups were the result of an emotional collapse that led to severe melancholy (Middlebrook, pg: 4-16). She was continuously struggling to overcome depression and was looking for counseling to get rid from depressive feelings. In 1948, Anne got married with Alfred Muller Sexton II, regardless of the fact that she was betrothed to another man during that time (Middlebrooke, pg: 20-23). She gave birth to the second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton when she was getting counseling from her counselor. In 1956, mental condition of Anne was deteriorated to the extent that she was hospitalized in a psychiatric hospital for the first time in her life. At that time she tried to commit suicide but failed. Same year, she started writing poetry once again with an encouragement from her psychiatrist Dr. Martin. But Anne never revived from depression and again attempted to suicide in May, 1957. These suicidal tendencies were the reflection of her severe mental state and she had to shelter in psychiatric clinic. She continued to write poetry through her inner drive and her creations became very popular. In August, she received a scholarship to Antioch Writers’ Conference. She suffered from immense depression and had a long lasting relationship with her psychiatrist, Martin Orne. Her life was very difficult during this period. The major battle of her life was bipolar disorder, which she spoke in her poetry. Her psychiatrist Orne always encouraged her to write, with an intention that her engagement in composing verse may lessen her emotional depressive feelings and continuously prompted her to compose whatever comes to her mind and not to crush life with mental barriers. He made an effort to realize her that her write ups might have great importance to populace in future.
Sexton was deeply involved in writing profession in 1957, and published “To Bedlam and Part Way Back in 1960”, She got great eulogize for the collection her first book (Middlebrook, Pg: 4-16). Her writings reflected her mental state and depressive thoughts. Sexton selected the topics which were earlier unknown in poetry, such as abortion, menstruation, and the attraction of suicide for her. Sexton wrote shamelessly about herself on topics that some found thwarting and these were not suitable for poetry. Her life was guarded by psychiatrist and counselor. She was further encouraged to express her inner bitterness and experiences in poetic form by her advisor W.D. Snodgrass, whom she met at the Antioch Writer’s Conference in 1957. She comprehended the fictitious urge, writing theme the writer use for actuality and the imagination in conception. She used her awareness of the human state sometimes throbbing, but many times delightful to create poems. Sexton achieved good repute by her insightful metaphors, the unexpected rhythms of her stanza, and her knack to grasp a variety of meaning in accurate words (Linda, 1989). Sexton had an inner talent to twist metaphors and similes as a technique in her writing and transformed her poems to influence her readers. She used metaphors in “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs” which contributed to the blustery modern sound. Sexton transforms her poems to effervescent multicolored images in the brain by using bright colors as a different technique in her writing. one more imaginative, ghastly quote she used in “Godfather Death” that is “His white head hung out like a carpet bag and his crotch turned blue as a blood blister, and Godfather death, as it is written, put a finger on his back for the big blackout, the big no. Such as “Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs,” the quote explains through so many words that Snow White’s beauty surpasses the once beautiful but aged queen, and she can not have that happen. ” (Sexton Love Poems, Pg: 181-182). She used symbolic imagery in the majority of her poems that were insightful, meditative, and mature, which offers newly redolent and unforgettable images that, articulated most frequently in her poetry. Her writings such as in Love Poems, Live and Die, and Transformations, intended to explain the readers with the whole work of imperative mid-century American poets. She also worked together with some musical group to put several of her writing style to melody.
Her career was greatly affected by the frenzied aspects of Sexton’s infirmity in the late 1960s and early 1970s. She created her poetry and published work under such grave circumstances. While she wrote to chuck out mental problems, depression and the seclusion experienced with mental illness were still prominent. Her creation “Her Kind” discovers internal setup of depressed psyche and reflects what women countenance in a male-dominated society. She has written poems mainly in first person. Each verse of her poem portrays females in their diverse roles while at the same time mentioning on the remoteness of poor mental health (Middlebrook, pg: 114). Sexton expressed herself in such a way that some powerful force was controlling her that made her intrinsically wickedness. These were all due to her depressive state of mind. Sexton wrote a poem entitled “Wanting to Die” in 1964 which is tremendously emotional (Parini, pg: 646-647).
Sexton made extreme effort to win the Pulitzer Prize. She was awarded for the Audience Poetry Prize in 1959. After getting this award Anne started to publish the first manuscript of poetry entitled “To Bedlam and Part Way Back.” With this publication, Anne got national recognition of her work. Her second book was published in 1962, entitled “All My Pretty Ones.” These work pushed her to write more insightful and she continued with her achievements by working on four children’s books with her friend Maxine Kumin. Sexton shared her ideas and early drafts of poems with Kumin. She produced her best work in All My Pretty Ones (1962), which stands an epigraph from Shakespeare’s Macbeth. Anne toured Europe on a traveling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters in 1963. Though she enjoyed the trip but again her emotional out burst and mental illness made her life worsen. In 1964, she consulted a new psychiatrist who started treatment of Anne’s depression by prescribing the drug Thorazine, and she came out from hospital. This change of treatment temporarily relived her. Transformations were her distinguished work which was published in 1971. She tried to explain in these verse some renowned Grimm’s fairy tales from the standpoint of “a middle-aged witch, me,” generating some comic moments and ended up surprisingly that are not part of the innovative tales. Sexton published seven poetry compilations in her life span even though she stayed in mental hospital and under therapeutic treatment. Throughout her life, she struggled to tackle with her own marital betrayal and the troubles allied with being a female poet in a male dominated genre. She reproduced such feelings by combining the thesis of despair with the roles of women in society. She wanted to communicate the unformulated conception of dejection through her poetic expression. She found the way to extend her life through expressing her inner thoughts in the face of the wish to commit suicide, which concerned, purposely the creation of metaphor (Kendall, pg: 87).
Though she reflected her own thought and sufferings, but her creations are greatly praised by reader for the powerful metaphors, persuasive associations, sentimental melancholic tone, and scrupulously arranged tonal patterns of her best poetry. She gained all around appreciation for her work. This fame did not make her stable and normal womanly who can survive and lead normal married life. Anne Sexton was ambitious and enthusiastic. She had a feeling of disagreement regarding the desires to live or to die (Middlebrook, pg: 4-16). Sexton is renowned as a noteworthy American poet of the postwar era for her deep talent. She left such a profound impact among American public that she is well thought-out as the most gifted representatives of the first generation of confessional poets, beside with Lowell and Plath. Reviewer analyzed her work as a reflection of the dual nature and as a healing process and disparaging urge. But promoters viewed her poetry as a good initiative and daring step to transform excruciating experience and outlawed topics into art. Opponents did not appreciate such matters as exhibitionist and strongly condemned. James Dickey quoted Sexton’s poems in his now-famous review of To Bedlam and Part Way Back, “One feels tempted to drop them furtively into the nearest ashcan, rather than be caught with them in the presence of such naked suffering.” Sexton’s wok was criticized by many opponents for discriminating philosophical archetypal motifs in her work, particularly citations to the Oedipus myth in themes of incest and the inexorable search for illegal truth and her intricate handling of her own search for saintly meaning in The Awful Rowing Toward God. She made her strong position in the line of notable poets regardless of all these criticism. She had a dominating personality and was a very attractive woman. Before writing poetry, she was involved in modeling for a short period and she had many fans. Several fans had an opinion of her that she is movie star first and recognized as a poet second. She made huge contribution to society by expressing her bitter emotional thoughts in the form of poetry. She could not conquer from mental ailments and committed suicide on October 4, 1974.
To sum up, Sexton was continually getting success as a poet till her last breath (Wagner-Martin). The emotional disturbances which were faced throughout her life is reflected in her poetic expressions and made Sexton to become an eminent and esteemed poet. Today, people appreciate her brilliant work and get inspiration. Her constant depressions revealed in her poetry which took her own life. She has articulated her personal torment in the verse. She tolerated and discovered the depths of her mind and society and created in poetic form. She was very frank to write private feminine matters such as menstruation, incest, adultery, and drug addiction when these topics were not allowed in poetry. Sexton’s later works were focused on common references to mythology, fairy tales, and Christian motifs, and discovers such topics as quixotic love, motherhood, and relationships between the sexes. It can be said that her mental sufferings boosted her career as a poet and she is still alive among all admirers.
1) Kendall Charity. Journal Title: Journal of Evolutionary Psychology. Volume: 26. Issue: 1-2. Publication Year: 2005. Page Number: 87.
2) Wagner-Martin, Linda. “Sexton, Anne Gray Harvey.” 13 November 2001. <http://www.anb.org/articles/16/16-01490-print.html
3) Middlebrook, Diane Wood. Anne Sexton: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
4) Sexton, Anne. “Her Kind.” Kennedy, X.J. and Dana Gioia, eds. Literature: An Introduction to Fiction, Poetry, and Drama. 8th ed. New York: Longman, 2002. 770.
5) Parini, Jay. Editor. The Columbia Anthology of American Poetry. New York: Columba University Press, 1995.
6) Kumin, Maxine. Foreword. The Complete Poems by Anne Sexton. New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1999. xix.