The 20th Century American poet, Anne Sexton once said, “Poetry should be a shock to the senses. It should almost hurt.” Sexton displays this belief through her writing style and set of controversial themes, which unquestionably shocked critics at times. Many of Sexton’s poems reflect on her personal struggles with mental illness and her numerous encounters with suicidal feelings. Sexton became known as a confessional poet because of her autobiographical style of writing. The main themes of her poetry are depression and death. “Wanting to Die”, “The Truth the Dead Know”, “The Abortion”, and “The Starry Night”, are all examples of Sexton’s writing that portray her central poetic themes. Through the use of vivid visual imagery, especially natural imagery, Anne Sexton expresses the melancholy tones of her poems and depicts her theme of death.
Anne Sexton, who grew up in Massachusetts in the early 20th century, found herself in and out of hospitals starting in her mid 20s. After giving birth to her first daughter, Sexton suffered a mental breakdown and was hospitalized. In 1956, after she had her second daughter, Sexton was diagnosed with post partum depression and had made her first of several attempts at suicide (Middlebrook 3). As a coping strategy, Anne Sexton’s psychiatrist suggested she write poems to express her emotions. Writing became an artistic escape for Sexton and after a short period of time writing, she compiled her poetry into a book. This therapeutic activity turned into a great writing career.
Throughout Sexton’s career as a writer, she continued to struggle with her mental illness. Sexton wrote her second book, All My Pretty Ones, during a very hard time in her life. “During the years of her apprenticeship as a ...
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...an Gogh’s infamous painting, Starry Night, inspired this poem. Sexton creatively incorporates the painting’s images into the imagery of the poem. At the start of the poem, Sexton includes a quote from Van Gogh, “that does not keep me from having a terrible need of — shall I say the word — religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars,” as an epigraph for the reader. The poem is about the speaker’s desire to die on a starry night like the one depicted in Van Gogh’s painting. Van Gogh’s painting depicts the night sky full of stars hovering above a sleeping little town. In the first stanza of Sexton’s “The Starry Night”, Sexton references the images of the stars and a single large tree within Van Gogh’s work. She describes the tree as “one black-haired tree”, which “slips up like a drowned woman into the hot sky”(Phillips 2). In the Starry Night painting,
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