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
.

–Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother

The town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

into that rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

10 Comments

  1. Juliana says:

    I have to agree with Shawn. The first time I ever read this poem (in tenth grade), I was struck with the sense that the speaker herself wanted to die. I immediately got the feeling that Anne Sexton was suicidal. And then my teacher confirmed it. About her battle with depression, her suicide attempts, her hospitalization, and eventual death. It really is quite amazing how much this poem and Anne Sexton’s life go hand-in-hand. It’s as if she was speaking in code about her own life, daring someone to figure out the riddle and know the dreadful fate she wished for herself.

  2. lorkin says:

    When I read that a person has allowed themselves to die I think (shall I say? as Anne questioned in her poem) …I think of Xt. He too allowed others to murder Him, and for no reason. Or was there a reason? We observers from the outside are once again led by (shall I say it…religion)?? yes led into Mystery again and again. Shall I say it Divine Mystery. Can the cause of death be birth? ..for Nicole presently, for Magdeline distantly, for Anne 40+ years past. The sorrowing mother Maria’s mother was Anne, over 2000 years past. Now I read the deep and beautiful insights of another Anne whom I find most profound. gratias agamus Domino Deo nostro…

  3. V says:

    I think Sexton produces incredible imagery in this poem. If one had never seen Van Gogh’s painting, it would still be as captivating. Having seen the painting however, I understand the “this is how I want to die” comment. It is not a depressing thought, or even that dark of a comment. It is purely the statement of the brilliance of the stars in the painting, and how if she could choose how to die, it would be to be sucked up into these fantastic stars. Incredible and wonderful.

  4. lauren says:

    i think this poem is absolutely brilliant. i love anne sexton’s writing. i admire how she wrote about a work of art, and it was all about her observations and opinions about the poem. brilliant.

  5. Ben says:

    The first stanza really does it for me. The town does not exist, she says. And in the painting that is so true as well. Except, she continues, where the lone tree projects upward. That image of this immense faceless town that in truth has no existence outside of that one lone tree. And the isolation which that implies. The bitter loneliness that to some extent is the lot of any true artist is so beautifully expressed in this absolutely wonderful poem.

  6. Mila says:

    Brilliant description of Van Gogh’s famous painting. She makes the night scene seem both beautiful and terrifying. I find it fascinating how Anne was able to convey her passion for life within the context of her death. She didn’t want to die meekly, but would rather lunge headlong into her fate, unburdened by ideologies and the base desires of humanity.

  7. Breck A. Cox says:

    I believe the exellent writer Anne Sexton wrote this poem to confirm that she had a great appreciation for art.She wanted to know how Van Gogh felt and she knew exactly what it was like for him.She composed this but could not find it within herself to live.Her imagery and symbolism are exellent.She is dearly missed.
    Sincerly
    Bc

  8. Shawn says:

    actually, this poem (written in 1961) is a clear prediction of her impending suicide in october of 1974. the whole thing is riddled with details hinting at how she actually did eventually kill herself…read her bio thoroughly, find out how she dies, then read the poem again. i just did my thesis on this poem, i couldn’t believe my eyes when i realized what i’d stumbled across. i thought it was just going to be a run-o-the-mill sexton depression piece relating to her impressions of the painting by van gogh. but it was anything but that. it is intensely autobiographical. later ya’ll and keep reading and writing! don’t let the poetry fade!

  9. cole says:

    This poem to me seems very dark. I feel that its about death possible an after life. He is living in a town where he feels he doesnt exist everyone in this town is alive but doesnt acknowledge his existanceand he wants to die.

  10. THAI says:

    THE POEM TO ME IS CONSIDERD TO BE A PLEA OF DEATH, HE SEES NO POINT OF LIVING, AFTER HOURS NO ONE CARES THAT HE EXISTS…ALL HE HAS TO DEPEND ON IS THE STARS AND THE DARK NIGHT. HE COULD COUNT ON THE MOON, BUT THE MOON HAS OTHER PRORITIES,AND HIS EXISTENCE IS NOT ONE.

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