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The Poets

November 11, 2010

Sexton on Plath's Death


Plath and Sexton were friends who shared several things in common: they were both woman; they were both roughly the same age; they were both exceptional poets; and they were both living a tortuous life of mental depression which, as a result of it and an intense obsession with death, caused them to kill themselves.

The women talked often with one another of their ills, particularly of their deep desire to die. It seems, to me at any rate, that, along with their poetry writing, they were somewhat therapeutic for one another ... but not therapeutic enough.

On February 11th, 1963, Plath ended her life. News of her friend's death must have reached Sexton quickly, for just six days later she scripted a poem (a sort of elegy) in memory of her friend. Here's that poem:


Sylvia's Death
for Sylvia Plath

O Sylvia, Sylvia,
with a dead box of stones and spoons,

with two children, two meteors
wandering loose in a tiny playroom,

with your mouth into the sheet,
into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,

(Sylvia, Sylvia
where did you go
after you wrote me
from Devonshire
about rasing potatoes
and keeping bees?)

what did you stand by,
just how did you lie down into?

Thief --
how did you crawl into,

crawl down alone
into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,

the death we said we both outgrew,
the one we wore on our skinny breasts,

the one we talked of so often each time
we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,

the death that talked of analysts and cures,
the death that talked like brides with plots,

the death we drank to,
the motives and the quiet deed?

(In Boston
the dying
ride in cabs,
yes death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer
who beat on our eyes with an old story,

how we wanted to let him come
like a sadist or a New York fairy

to do his job,
a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,

and since that time he waited
under our heart, our cupboard,

and I see now that we store him up
year after year, old suicides

and I know at the news of your death
a terrible taste for it, like salt,

(And me,
me too.
And now, Sylvia,
you again
with death again,
that ride home
with our boy.)

And I say only
with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

what is your death
but an old belonging,

a mole that fell out
of one of your poems?

(O friend,
while the moon's bad,
and the king's gone,
and the queen's at her wit's end
the bar fly ought to sing!)

O tiny mother,
you too!
O funny duchess!
O blonde thing!

February 17, 1963


Tragically, on October 4th, 1974, Sexton, like her friend, ended her life by asphyxiation.

3 comments:

John W. May said...

Wanting to Die
by Anne Sexton

Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost unnameable lust returns.


Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention,
the furniture you have placed under the sun.


But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build.


Twice I have so simply declared myself,
have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
have taken on his craft, his magic.


In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.


I did not think of my body at needle point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.


Still-born, they don’t always die,
but dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
that even children would look on and smile.


To thrust all that life under your tongue!—
that, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say,


and yet she waits for me, year after year,
to so delicately undo an old wound,
to empty my breath from its bad prison.


Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
raging at the fruit a pumped-up moon,
leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,


leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love whatever it was, an infection.

John W. May said...

How utterly sad to me ...

two beautiful women who were exceptional poets plagued with thoughts of death.

Why, I ask my weary mind, would they dispel with breath?

PJ said...

Love both of them. I think of death pretty much too... Sometimes it feels like i'm a male version of them, but well, that sounds really egoistic.

As of April 9th, 2010