Anne Sexton-To Bedlam & Part Way Back


Death is a prominent theme in Anne Sexton’s work since we constantly see throughout her poems. I chose two poems to talk about which deal with death, “The Double Image” and “The Moss of His Skin.”

“The Double Image” is addressed to Anne’s younger daughter, Joyce. It talks about Sexton’s life that she was hospitalized, attempted to commit suicide, her mother was extremely ill and fighting for her life. In this poem, Sexton used portrait to give us representation of death. The death is suicidal here which affects the whole family tremendously. This poem started with Anne’s mother who didn’t appreciate Anne’s attempt of committing suicide. Instead of forgiving Anne, her mother decided to make her portrait done which will hold her memories before death. There is also portrait of the Anne’s mother which represents sickness therefore shows the feelings of lifelessness. The mother was sick and she also chose to get her portrait done. I think it is interesting that the relationship between three generations are being told through the portraits of the mother, Anne and her daughter, Joyce. The portraits are giving us portrayal of life before death separated them. It is fascinating that Anne connected together the birth of her daughter with her attempt to commit suicide and on the other hand, giving birth to new relationship with her daughter with the dying relationship of her mother. I find this ironic that on one hand Sexton started the relationship with her daughter while on the other hand, the relationship with her mother is “dead.” Maybe Sexton was trying to say that in order for someone to live, someone has to die so therefore the mother had to die to make the granddaughter live.

The other poem that deals with death is “The Moss of His Skin.”As I was reading this poem, I discovered that there is a note which mentions that Arabic girls were buried alive with their dead fathers. From this note, we can also assume that that this poem will also deal with a young girl who is buried with her dead father. This poem is is showing us the perspective of the girl who was buried alive. We see the description of Sexton’s relationship with her father when she describes that she was holding her father’s body like “an old stone tree”(24). From, this we know that the Sexton was lying next to her dead father and holding his body close to her which was icy cold.

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11 Responses to Anne Sexton-To Bedlam & Part Way Back

  1. zharajaffrey says:

    I agree I also noticed the theme of death which continuously reoccurs in Anne Sexton poems. I did read “The Moss of His Skin” it does speak about death about being buried alive. And is from the point of view of the prospective girl who is buried. From my blog you can probably see that I agree with what you have said about “The Double Image” it was the same reading I got from it.

  2. pamelaburger says:

    You raise some great points here about these poems. I find this claim particularly interesting: “The portraits are giving us portrayal of life before death separated them.” It does seem in some way that the portrait is an attempt to keep the mother and daughter alive, with the looming threat of death hanging over them, about to separate them. I don’t know if I agree that in order for one to live another HAD to die, but that certainly is an intriguing proposition, and you do have me convinced that the poem suggests an inter-dependent relationship between life and death. I just commented on Zhara’s blog that I think this might be related to Sexton’s postpartum depression after her daughter’s birth. In that way, the birth is quite literally connected to the mother’s desire to die.

  3. jennylee says:

    Nice analysis of the portrait motif if “The Double Image” — it gave me another way to view at the portraits.

    And I’m so glad you picked out “The Moss of His Skin,” because it was one of the many poems in the collection that I found really disturbing yet beautiful…or maybe I just have a disturbed mind…

    Yeah, the note about how the girls were buried alive next to their fathers was horrifying read; however, Sexton kind of spins it around and makes it seem like the young girls were at peace at their death. now to think of it, her poem almost speaks like an epitaph, like she’s honoring those young girls…

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