Much of Anne Sexton’s work is autobiographical and concentrates on her inner deeper feelings. Most of which was anguish. Eventually, Sexton’s poems about her psychiatric struggles were gathered in To Bedlam and Part Way Back which recounts, as James Dickey wrote, the experiences “of madness and near-madness, of the pathetic, well-meaning, necessarily tentative and perilous attempts at cure, and of the patient’s slow coming back into the human associations and responsibilities which the old, previous self still demands.” The type of poetry she wrote is call confessional poetry and is often controversial. A Times Literary Supplement reviewer, for example, said of Live or Die that “many of Mrs. Sexton’s new poems are arresting, but such naked psyche-baring makes demands which cannot always be met. Confession may be good for the soul, but absolution is not the poet’s job, nor the reader’s either.” A Punch critic added, “When her artistic control falters the recital of grief and misery becomes embarrassing, the repetitive material starts to grow tedious, the poetic gives way to the clinical and the confessional.” Many reviewers raised at least two questions. First, should her poetry be classified as confessional? Second, does her work consistently demonstrate the artistic control which many critics feel is an essential quality of good poetry? (Anne Sexton).
One of her poems, as published in the Anthology For My Lover Returning to His Wife is told from the point of view on a mistress.
This poem is about the anguish and realization that she will never match up to his wife. Throughout the entre poem, the other women is constantly comparing herself to his wife:
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
A luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your typical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy (Sexton, 534).
Anne Sexton, in this poem, is showing the different roles between the mistress and the wife. The wife is the person to whom the husband goes home…the woman who takes care of him, who bore his children and cares for them, who ultimately holds his heart. The mistress is simply a fleeting luxury…someone who will not be there forever. In this poem, she removes herself from the equation and gives the husband permission to solely care for his wife.
“I am a watercolor. I wash off” doesn’t refer to a lack of self-confidence, it refers to the temporary nature of being a mistress.
“She is a solid” refers to his wife being the sole occupant of his heart. She will be there forever. She is solid. She will always remain.
“Anne Sexton.” Poetry Foundation. PoetryFoundation.org. 2013. Web. 12 April 2013
Sexton, Anne. “For My Lover Returning to His Wife.” The Longman Anthology of Women’s Literature. Ed. Mary K. DeShazer. New York: Addison-Wesley Educational Publishing Inc. (2001). 534-535. Print.