the last bright routes, survivor...

from my anthology of must read (a)merican poems

Anne Sexton

Her Kind

I have gone out, a possessed 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 mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, 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.

I have ridden in your cart, 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 ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.


an alternate reading...


A brilliant declaration of fire-breathing words that rail against conformity ... and need no illumination. They carry their own light.

I can’t escape the brutal honesty in Sexton’s lines – and certainly not the deep anguish in realizing the cost of such truths.


Collin said...

One of the best poems ever written. Without Sexton, I'd be nothing.

Rachel Dacus said...

Sexton exerted the kind of influence on my writing that Plath did: to give courage to face into the dark and report back. I'm troubled by the fact that she didn't return, though, from that brutal voyage of discovery. Didn't return to tell what can be saved. I think Olds is more the poet who completed that journey -- though the lesser poet of the two.

Thanks for posting the reading. I hadn't heard it. It lends beauty to the poem.

LKD said...

Not ASHAMED to die.

Not: Not afraid. No, no.

Not ashamed.

I hadn't read or thought about this poem in a while and I'd forgotten that penultimate line.

I've been walking around with this poem inside me for years now and I think this is the first time I noticed the rhyme scheme.

Her reading of the poem surprised me. It was, for lack of a better word, laconic. I expected fierceness. Her delivery really took me aback.

What surprised me most though was her voice. I didn't expect it to be so round and womanly and kind in tone. I expected something rawer, edged, ruined, ragged. Sort of how Courtney Love sounds. Damaged.

Thanks for posting the poem and the video, Sam. I'll be turning the whole experience over and over in my head for days to come.

LKD said...

Well, laconic is definitely the wrong word. Geez, I swear, I think I know the meaning of a word, then I look it up and find out I'm wrong.

Maybe languid is more in what I'm trying to get at.

Or lackadaisical.

I expected her to read it fiercely.

(I can't believe I didn't know what laconic meant. I guess I associate that word with Clint Eastwood---and he IS laconic. But I understood the word to mean indifferent, not terse.)

sam of the ten thousand things said...

I agree with you, Collin. A powerful poem.

And Rachel, that's an interesting comparison, and probably on target. I wonder if it's not the loss, her inability to return, that keeps me coming back.

Laurel, for me, there is a fierce quality in the reading - but, it's the words themselves. I'm thinking of the films of Robert Bresson. He used non-actors - and would film a scene scores of times until all the emotion and falseness (what he called acting) disappeared. The audience, by the nature of the film's structure, is forced to enter the film, emotionally. It's an amazing experience. That's how I take this poem. Sexton's reading is all the more eerie because of the flat tone.

Collin said...

You should hear Sexton read the poem on her final taped session. I have it on cassette. It's raw and ragged and haunted.

Kate [midnight's music] said...

Hello Mr. Rasnake.

Your blog inspires lots of ideas and many thoughts that we ourselves never think that we can think and express in a way others would understand. So thank you 'sam of the ten thousand things' yes thank you Mr. Rasnake. You have become my hero and for you i give thanks in that you inspired me to become an english teacher and to hopefully one day be a teacher who can also let teenagers express themselves through poetry and writing. so thank you, thank you very much.

Your 'young jedi' thankful student,
Katie Winters

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Collin, I've added another of Sexton's recordings of the piece - though I'm not certain if it's the one you mention. But, it is a stronger version.

And Katie - welcome, and thanks for the kind words.

Anonymous said...

the patron saint of all confessionals: our anne of the muffler. i'd take her over plath, probably when hard pressed to pick.
i keep a picture of her at my desk (when i have one) all smooth model reclining poolside. there's scarce one, if any left of her kind.
(although we'd all like to think/pretend we're worthy of this inheritance)

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Thanks for the read & listen, Nicole. Transformations is one I have always returned to - and have found something new, every time.

LKD said...

Well, now.

That's a horse of a different color, isn't it?

It's like listening to a living woman read in the first version you posted, and a dead woman read in the second.

I am of two minds. I like the first because her reading was so unexpected, so almost tossed off, so indifferent.

I like and don't like the second reading because it IS what I expected.

But I can hear her thinking in the second version about her delivery--which is wonderful (didn't you absolutely flinch when she annunciated the word "crack"?)--but because I can hear her thinking, it comes off as awfully contrived. Kind of like the difference between watching an actor act like somebody rather than just BE them.

Her voice in the second version is...spooky. It reminds me of my father's voice on the answering machine after he died. It took months for my mother to finally take out that tape (she didn't want to erase it). When he was still alive, I'd joke and say that his voice sounded disembodied on that answering machine message.

I used to hate calling the house after he died because...I was listening to dead man who sounded like a dead man when he was alive.

Which is how Anne sounds in the second version. Like a living dead woman.

Thanks for posting both. It's interesting to hear how differently she could read that poem.

Collin said...

Yes, Sam, that is the recording I have. Although whoever put that on YouTube has chopped it up to fit with that terrible graphic.

Anne's voice is like a funeral march in that version. As a matter of fact, the whole taped session is like that. Only occassionally would she snap out of that low, throaty, numb voice and show any spark.

Pris said...

She blows me away. What talent! Thanks for this post.

k1tchenwitch said...

This is one of my all-time favorites. It's one of the poems I recite for the boys when I'm cooking or driving or sitting around. They like this one more than Eliot's Prufrock (which T has permanently twisted: in the room, the women come and go, waiting for Michael Jackson. . . )

sam of the ten thousand things said...

It is a strong piece. Thanks for the visit, Pris and Theresa. Hearing Prufrock in the car - That is a drive.

Michele G. said...

Absolute and exact. Sexton writes life, not poems about life. Thanks for the kindly reminder.

sam of the ten thousand things said...

Welcome, Michele. I appreciate the comment.