Anne Sexton : Life into Art
A story, a story!(Let it go. Let it come.)I was stamped out like a Plymouth fenderinto this world.First came the cribwith its glacial bars.
Then dollsand the devotion to their plastic mouths.Then there was school,the little straight rows of chairs,blotting my name over and over,but undersea all the time,a stranger whose elbows wouldn’t work.
Then there was lifewith its cruel housesand people who seldom touched -though touch is all-but I grew,like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,and then there were many strange apparitions,the nagging rain, the sun turning into poisonand all of that, saws working through my heart,but I grew, I grew,and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,still ignorant of Him, my arms and my legs worked,and I grew, I grew,I wore rubies and bought tomatoesand now, in my middle age,about nineteen in the head I’d say,I am rowing, I am rowingthough the oarlocks stick and are rustyand the sea blinks and rollslike a worried eyeball,but I am rowing, I am rowing,though the wind pushes me backand I know that that island will not be perfect,it will have the flaws of life,the absurdities of the dinner table,but there will be a doorand I will open itand I will get rid of the rat inside of me,the gnawing pestilential rat.God will take it was his two handsand embrace it.
As the African says:This is my tale which I have told,if it be sweet, if it be not sweet,take somewhere else and let some return to me.This story ends with me still rowing.
– “Rowing” by Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Towards God
I chose to start this paper by quoting an entire poem of Anne Sexton’s. Why? Because no one told the story of Anne Sexton’s life as often or as well as Anne Sexton herself. Over and over she wrote, recounted, and recast her struggles with madness, her love affairs, her joys and griefs in parenting, and her religious quests. For example, “Rowing” touches upon the need for Anne to tell stories about herself, her longing for connection with others, her mental problems, and her searching for God – one could not ask for a better introduction to the world of Anne Sexton.
Sexton was a pioneer. As member of the “confessional school” of poetry that arose in America in the early ’60s, she helped put an emphasis in American culture on revelation that continues today.