Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the most 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 and year,
to so delicately undo an old would,
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 a book carelessly open,
something unsaid, the phone off the hook
and the love, whatever it was, an infection.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Wanting To Die

2 Comments

  1. kimmieG says:

    This is one of, if not my absolute, favorite poems. As you said, the phrases reach out and make such perfect PERFECT sense to those of us who have walked these steps ourselves. The pain, the sense of just-out-of-reach relief…. all of her phrases reach deep into my soul (and that of so many readers, I am certain) to caress that itch. Whether that touch serves to inflame it or soothe it is the surprise…. each time may be the tipping point.

  2. LolaApple says:

    I have read this poem many times at different points in my life and sometimes it seems that new meanings or phrases jump out at me. Anne Sexton, like her friend Sylvia Plath eventually succeeded in killing herself.

    “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…

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

    When I hear that I wince from the pain of living, and how at times, especially when there’s massive, deep, oppresive depression, it can feel like a person is walking around already dead, and that the narrator feels like she got the briefest taste of death before life and that it was the sweetest relief.

    For a person who’s tried suicide (and like Anne, would try again) it’s always a great struggle and temptation that death is there waiting “to empty my breath from its bad prison”. How difficult it can be to turn away from the darkness and imagined blessed relief and stay contained in a wrenching, painful body that already feels like a corpse. It’s like living for the narrator is the same as being a soul trapped inside a rotting corpse.

    Its such a mournful poem.
    “They never ask why build”
    Would asking change the plans or stop the building?

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