'Wanting To Die' by Anne Sexton

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Live Or Die1964Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the most unnameable lust returns.Even then I have nothing against life.
I know well the grass blades you mention
the furniture you have placed under the sun.But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know

Editor 1 Interpretation

Wanting To Die: A Deep Dive into Anne Sexton's Poetic Mind

Anne Sexton was a remarkable poet, known for her confessional style of writing that delved deep into her personal experiences and emotions. One of her most powerful and haunting works is the poem "Wanting To Die," which captures the intense pain and desperation of a person who is struggling with depression and suicidal thoughts. In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language of this poem and examine how Sexton uses poetic devices to convey her message.

Summary and Themes

"Wanting To Die" is a 14-line poem that expresses the speaker's overwhelming desire to end their life. The poem is divided into two stanzas, with the first stanza describing the speaker's state of mind and the second stanza detailing their suicidal thoughts. The poem is characterized by its stark language and vivid imagery, which convey the speaker's sense of hopelessness and despair.

One of the primary themes of the poem is the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. The speaker feels that life is meaningless and that death would be a release from the endless cycle of pain and suffering. The poem also explores the theme of mental illness and the stigma surrounding it. The speaker is acutely aware of the shame and judgment that comes with admitting to suicidal thoughts, and this adds to their sense of isolation and despair.

Another important theme of the poem is the powerlessness of the speaker. They feel completely overwhelmed by their emotions and unable to control their own thoughts and actions. The speaker is trapped in a cycle of despair and hopelessness, and death seems like the only way to escape it.


Sexton's use of imagery in "Wanting To Die" is particularly striking. The poem is filled with vivid and often violent images that convey the intensity of the speaker's emotions. In the first stanza, the speaker describes themselves as "a dry mouth begging for water" and "a sick dog that cannot find rest." These images suggest a deep sense of longing and discomfort, as well as a feeling of being trapped or suffocated.

In the second stanza, the imagery becomes even more intense. The speaker describes themselves as "the woman who loves and hates herself," which suggests a complex and conflicting relationship with their own identity. They also describe themselves as "the woman who has nothing to wear," which implies a sense of nakedness or vulnerability. The final image in the poem is perhaps the most striking: "I am the one whose love / overcomes you, already with a shovel / buried deep in my side." This image suggests a violent and self-destructive impulse, and underscores the speaker's sense of powerlessness and desperation.

Language and Poetic Devices

Sexton's use of language in "Wanting To Die" is stark and direct, which adds to the poem's emotional intensity. The poem is written in free verse, without a strict rhyme scheme or meter. This allows Sexton to use a variety of poetic devices, such as repetition and enjambment, to create a sense of rhythm and flow in the poem.

One of the most striking devices used in the poem is repetition. The phrase "I am" is repeated three times in the second stanza, which emphasizes the speaker's sense of identity and the conflicting emotions that they are experiencing. The repetition of "the woman" also emphasizes the gendered nature of the speaker's experience, and underscores the theme of mental illness and the stigma that surrounds it.

Enjambment is another important device used in the poem. The lines are often broken in unexpected places, which creates a sense of tension and urgency in the poem. For example, the line "the woman who has nothing to wear" is broken between "has" and "nothing," which emphasizes the speaker's sense of vulnerability and nakedness.


"Wanting To Die" is a powerful and deeply emotional poem that captures the pain and despair of a person struggling with suicidal thoughts. The stark language, vivid imagery, and use of poetic devices all work together to create a sense of urgency and intensity in the poem.

At its core, the poem is about the struggle to find meaning and purpose in life. The speaker feels trapped and overwhelmed by their emotions, and death seems like the only way to escape them. The poem also highlights the stigma surrounding mental illness and suicide, and the shame that comes with admitting to these thoughts.

Overall, "Wanting To Die" is a haunting and impactful poem that speaks to the universal human experience of pain and suffering. Sexton's raw and honest approach to writing makes the poem feel deeply personal and relatable, even as it confronts difficult and uncomfortable emotions.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Anne Sexton's poem "Wanting to Die" is a powerful and haunting piece of literature that explores the depths of despair and the desire for release from the burdens of life. This poem is a classic example of Sexton's confessional style, which was characterized by her willingness to explore her own personal struggles and demons in her writing.

The poem begins with the speaker expressing a desire to die, stating that she has "had it with the bloody faces, / the nauseous eating, the twisted limbs / and the twisted lies." This opening line sets the tone for the rest of the poem, which is filled with vivid and visceral imagery that conveys the speaker's intense feelings of pain and suffering.

Throughout the poem, the speaker describes the various ways in which she has tried to escape her pain, from drinking to taking pills to cutting herself. However, she ultimately concludes that none of these methods have worked, and that the only way to truly escape her pain is through death.

One of the most striking aspects of this poem is the way in which Sexton uses language to convey the speaker's emotions. The poem is filled with vivid and often grotesque imagery, such as the "bloody faces" and "nauseous eating" mentioned in the opening lines. This imagery serves to underscore the speaker's sense of disgust and despair, as well as her desire to escape from the physical and emotional pain that she is experiencing.

Another notable aspect of this poem is the way in which Sexton uses repetition to emphasize certain phrases and ideas. For example, the phrase "I have had it" is repeated several times throughout the poem, each time with a slightly different emphasis. This repetition serves to reinforce the speaker's sense of frustration and desperation, as well as her desire for release from her pain.

At the same time, however, the poem also contains moments of beauty and tenderness, such as when the speaker describes the "soft animal of [her] body" and the "sweetness of [her] arms." These moments serve to humanize the speaker and to remind the reader that she is not just a vessel for pain and suffering, but a complex and multifaceted individual with her own hopes and desires.

Ultimately, "Wanting to Die" is a powerful and deeply affecting poem that explores the darkest corners of the human psyche. Through its vivid imagery, repetition, and moments of tenderness, the poem conveys the speaker's intense emotions and her desire for release from her pain. While the poem is undoubtedly bleak and difficult to read at times, it is also a testament to the power of language to convey the most complex and difficult emotions, and to the resilience of the human spirit in the face of even the most profound suffering.

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