Anna who was mad,
I have a knife in my armpit.
When I stand on tiptoe I tap out messages.
Am I some sort of infection?
Did I make you go insane?
Did I make the sounds go sour?
Did I tell you to climb out the window?
Forgive. Forgive.
Say not I did.
Say not.

Speak Mary-words into our pillow.
Take me the gangling twelve-year-old
into your sunken lap.
Whisper like a buttercup.
Eat me. Eat me up like cream pudding.
Take me in.
Take me.

Give me a report on the condition of my soul.
Give me a complete statement of my actions.
Hand me a jack-in-the-pulpit and let me listen in.
Put me in the stirrups and bring a tour group through.
Number my sins on the grocery list and let me buy.
Did I make you go insane?
Did I turn up your earphone and let a siren drive through?
Did I open the door for the mustached psychiatrist
who dragged you out like a gold cart?
Did I make you go insane?
From the grave write me, Anna!
You are nothing but ashes but nevertheless
pick up the Parker Pen I gave you.
Write me.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Anna Who Was Mad


  1. Lex says:

    Oh *please* people! Can we stop the amateur psychiatric diagnostics, based on a *poem*, which is supposed to be impressionistic, and freeform, being (broadly) “Modern”.She was not, by all reports available, schizophrenic. Sorry about the strident tone, but it annoys the hell outta me that as soon as we know someone has struggled with any sort of mental illness, we tend to use that to explain all the parts that we simply have failed to grasp. Sometimes, we are just don’t get a really complex and layered work of art guys–it doesn’t mean she was beyond reason, or that the poem describes that either.Lazy reading, and lazy thinking, I think. Anne Sexton suffered from depression, which twice (?)got severe enough to cause nervous breakdown. That is *not* schizophrenia, and the poem can be read , and understood, without goimg overboard with some romantic, dramatic and ultimately lazy fantasy of “madness”(as opposed to the reality–her particular experience of which I think she describes very “sanely”). Sheesh.

  2. Shalini says:

    I suppose its ok, But it does really freak me out. but it’s obviously the way the Author puts across her thoughts. Creative poem about her life

  3. Anna says:

    Schizophrenia as a theme for this poem does not ring true to me.
    But it does seem to be asking for help.
    Mary, mother of God, help me now in my hour of need, speak to me in my pillow (dreams) and help me outta this hell!
    Also, she is seems to be opining about depression/madness being an “infection” that one catches from being in close proximity to someone who is depressed/mad. Or perhaps sent down through the genes as an inherited illness.
    She is suffering from the disease as well as the loss of someone she loved. Anne lost her Nana first mentally through the illness then physically through the death.
    My feeling is that she is describing her suffering and looking for relief from heaven or earth.

  4. RainDew East says:

    In This poem Anne recognizes her problem of going deeper into the unknown psyche; she was trying to grasp her illness and wring it out, dry it out, relieve the sprinkle of oddity; of running to close the door; and never reaching it; the door to order was open; she could not reach it. Anna’s death caused her never to reach the open door to overcome the dreadful knowlege of insanity; complete sanity was inside the door… She became this Aunt in her mind ,and that was to be her early fate. Fabulous Mind, Her sight of the earthy things, and write about, it is so unique; things we only talk about in secret… Her reveling ability to do this was absolute courage without being afraid to expose what really happens to people. Now peace enters in; she reached the open door in death.

  5. Atique says:

    she’s not schizophrenic… she’s talking to her maiden aunt, Anna Dingley, whom she was close with during her adolescence years (until she was 13,when Anna, or “Nana”, went mad), and whose death caused Anne Sexton to face a major breakdown. i’m doing a research on her, anyone who want to share infos do e-mail me~

  6. ritza says:

    she freaks me out

  7. Jessica Elise says:

    I don’t really understand how anyone can hate this poem, but even if you hate it you should appreciate it. This poem screams schizophrenia. When she says “Speak Mary-words into our pillow,” it’s obvious. She is alone physically, crying out for God into her pillow. “I” and “you” are both her. “I” is confused, wondering how and why she went insane. She is a silent observer, she doesn’t know what is going on. She is trapped in herself. “You” is the source of her madness, the one being blamed, the other side of herself, suicidal, knowingly insane, the antagonist. One cannot “Whisper like a buttercup.” She is screaming out her confusion and frustration in her own head, because no one else can hear her.

  8. Maria says:

    I am so confused when it comes to this poem, I want to scream for her, but i am unsure if that is what she really wants. I have a different perspective on this work, for some reason i feel as if she is speaking to her mother, and in n out, her mother is asking her about her suicide. “am i some sort of infection?” what is this telling us? Depression is a powerful daze.

  9. Josh says:

    I feel like she is crying out for herself. the woman she once was. She knows she is cought up in illness and shed eosn’t like it.

  10. Ernest says:

    Oh My Goodness! I believe I have just found my new favirote poem (written by someone else other than me) I swear me and Anne’s style are nearly alike and this is the first time I have discovered her. Her Poetry so beautifully orchestrated. My style is like her but there is no way I can reach her level of expertise on such deep and sentimental piece of writting.

  11. anja says:

    wonderful and disturbing. i like this the most of all her poems. reminds me of alice and wonderland in a strange way.

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