Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

Anne Sexton-Making More of One's Own Life through the Creation of Metaphor

Academic journal article Journal of Evolutionary Psychology

Anne Sexton-Making More of One's Own Life through the Creation of Metaphor

Article excerpt

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was a poet who began her career in her twenty-seventh year after establishing herself as a wife and mother in greater Boston. She was cursed with a lifelong obsession with suicide. She was in therapy with a psychiatrist three times a week for most of her life. Overtly, Anne Sexton's goal from the earliest days when her psychiatrist suggested that she write about her mental illness was to write in order to help others. He said "Don't kill yourself. Your poems might mean something to someone else some day" (Kevles). Her commitment to literature was a direct extension of this directive. She threw herself into the endeavor with enough force to win the Pulitzer Prize four years later.

Anne Sexton was more introspective than most people and could be relied upon to ask the important and vital questions about life that most of us postpone. She was driven, fervent and concentrated. Anne Sexton was also conflicted about the desires to live or to die. She sought to become as concrete as she was able, through the creation of literary tropes, to convey the nebulous notion of depression. She also imagined a method of extending her life in this way, in the face of the desire to commit suicide, which involved, specifically, the formation of metaphor.

Anne Sexton's depression was something she referred to with warmth. She indulged her self in a dialogue about its immediacy and connectedness to her personality. She had compassion for the self that was defenseless against it. Through the use of compressed language, making it elliptical and making it metaphorical, she made the affect of depression comprehensible and essential. Sexton's metaphors have a special power to express the inexpressible. Depression, seemingly only an affective state of mind, was described by Anne Sexton as a sensory experience that had a physical quality.

Because depression presents itself in decidedly distinct forms to each person who experiences it, and because the term "depression" means something different to almost everyone who uses the word, it is particularly intriguing to observe how someone as verbally articulate as Anne Sexton describes the phenomenon. From the point when she started to write poetry she was able to directly translate her sensations and her ideas about depression into a form that could be shared by others. Consistently that form crystallized itself in metaphor creation. Because of the ease of the incorporation of metaphor to the mind of the reader she made expressing mental illness by this method seem almost easy.

Anne Sexton deeply explored her mental illness which was driving her to suicidal despair. Some theorists posit that her mental illness began with the birth of her first child and was a lifelong extension of what began as postpartum depression. In order to achieve the identity that made her personality valuable and relevant to her Anne Sexton distanced herself from life. Immediately after her daughters were born she made two suicide attempts which forced her family to remove the children to the homes of their grandmothers for three years. She also began to write. Though not understanding that formulating an existential philosophy would have perhaps served her better she instead wanted to separate from life through her use of language and by attempting suicide.

Clearly, her thinking was influenced by the moods of depression and mania that were first noted by her in-laws in the early years of her marriage (Sexton and Ames). Her biographer, Diane Middlebrook wrote, "Some of Sexton's poems depend on manic or despairing or ecstatic cascades of associations (The Furies, Oh Ye Tongues) that flow like an open spigot" (Middlebrook, "Parnassus, 1985"). Maxine Kumin explained in the forward of The Complete Poems that Sexton was manic during January and February of 1973. Kumin writes, "The poems were coming out at the rate of two, three, even four a day, the awesome pace terrified me. …

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