Thursday, August 2, 2007

Her Kind - Anne Sexton

This is my second post for the Summer Poetry Challenge.

'Her Kind'
, by Anne Sexton, published in 1960, is a deeply personal poem. It is written in first person, yet Anne compares herself to the female subject of the poem. 'A woman like that is misunderstood. I have been her kind.' Irregardless, this poem delves deep into her psyche, and is the portrayal of the multiple nature of human personalities. I think the poem is also telling of the stereotypes women faced (and continue to face) in a male-dominated society. It is a deeply mysterious poem, one that can produce hundreds of interpretations. Below is what it means to me.

The poem illustrates three personas: witch, housewife, and martyr, all personified in the theme of a woman being burned at the stake. The first stanza Anne describes the subject as a possessed witch:

I have gone out, a posessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of my mind.

A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
Using the metaphor of the traditional image of witch, Anne is describing the ways in which she does not fit the caricature of the 1950's/60's ideal woman. She dreams evil; is more comfortable in herself in the dark of night rather than the well-lit homes of the suburbs. She is twelve-fingered, different from others in ways that she feels are obvious.

The second stanza, Anne embodies the traditional witch image with that of the housewife:
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carving, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
She uses the imagery of a housewife, with components that seem out of place to this image, such as 'fixing the suppers for worms and elves'. Anne has tried to fill this role: marrying, having kids, living the life of a suburban housewife. Through this experiences she has learned how women are pigeon-holed into this life in order to be accepted by society. Many women in this role are unhappy, and misunderstood, like she was herself.

The third stanza is the persona of the martyr, and she goes back to the historical time when women were burned at the stake if found to be a witch:
I have ridden in your car, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not afraid to die.
I have been her kind.
I feel this last stanza illustrates the most self-empowering of all three. She has come to accept that her lifestyle is different from society, and in essence is thumbing her nose at everyone else, saying she does not care what they think. She is finally true to herself. Despite the approach of death, she is setting an example of empowerment by defying the roles conscripted to herself and other women, and that is what matters most.


Ted said...

Very cool post - I love all the multi-media versions posted today!!

Dewey said...

I enjoyed the youtube. My son, though, heard it and asked, "Is that FDR talking?" ?????? And I think I want to read that biography.

iliana said...

That is truly beautiful. I haven't read much by Anne Sexton but your post makes me want to go in search of more poems by her. I need to check out the YouTube stuff later.

Anonymous said...

Wow... I just finished writing an essay analyzing this poem for english class and my ideas were nothing like your own. I feel like mine are incorrect or less well thought out. I suppose it's better I finished my essay before googling as my ideas are original, but I'm still in awe--it seems as though I've missed something glaringly obvious. Thank you for your perspective, it's wonderful!

Anonymous said...

Hey great interpretations!
I read somewhere the third part
is a reference to Joan of Arc, she was said to have a lot of respect for her, and why wouldnt she? Joan was also another woman breaking away from the chains of traditional society and was burned at the stake for it.
I think Anne makes another reference to her in other poems though I dont know which ones, anyway.
Cool post!
Greeting from Mexico ;D

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GrammarNazi said...

Kind of surprised that no one pointed out the use of the word "irregardless", which contains a negative prefix and a negative suffix, and is therefore ineffective, incorrect, and more importantly, NOT A WORD.