Mother: Mary Gray Staples Harvey
Father: Ralph Churchill Harvey
Sisters: Jane and Blanche Harvey
Husband: Alfred Muller Sexton II ("Kayo")
Children: Linda Gray Sexton and Joyce Ladd Sexton
Great Aunt: Anna Ladd Dingley ("Nana")
Grandfather: Arthur Gray Staples
Born in Newton, Massachusetts
Grew up in the following 4 Boston suburbs:
Summer home on Squirrel Island
Brief residence in the following:
Hamilton, New York
San Francisco, California
Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts
Died in Weston, Massachusetts
Worked in the Boston area as a clerk at the Hathaway
Worked in the Boston area as a model for the Hart
Started writing poetry and became a poet
Taught literature in high school and the college
1928: On November 9th Anne Gray Harvey was born in
Newton, Massachusetts to Mary Gray Staples Harvey and Ralph Churchill Harvey.
1934-1945: Educated in public schools in Wellesley,
1940: Anne's grandfather Arthur Gray Staples died
of a terminal illness.
1945-1947: Graduated from Rogers Hall, a boarding
school for girls in Lowell, Massachusetts.
1947: Attended the Garland School in Boston, a finishing
school for women. Writes first poems, which were published in the school
1948: On August 16th eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton
1949-1952: Kayo was on active duty for Naval Reserve
during Korean War. Anne lived with parents and/or in-laws during Kayo's
1953: On July 21st Anne and Kayo's first child was
born- Linda Gray Sexton. Anne was diagnosed with postpartum depression.
1953-1954: First mental breakdown and attempted suicide;
hospitalized at Westwood Lodge, a neuropsychiatric hospital.
1954: Anne's great aunt Anna Ladd Dingley died after
many years of suffering from senility.
1955: On August 5th Anne and Kayo's second child
was born-Joyce Ladd Sexton. Anne suffered another breakdown, and hospitalized
1956: March: Anne started seeing a psychiatrist
July 13th -August 3rd: hospitalized for treatment of anxiety
November 9th: second attempt at suicide
December: Anne began to write poetry again at psychiatrist's encouragement.
1957: Enrolled in John Holmes's poetry workshop in
Boston, where Anne first met Maxine Kumin.
1958: Scholarship to Antioch Writers' Conference
to work with W.D. Snodgrass.
September: began attending Robert Lowell's writing seminar at Boston University,
where Anne first met Sylvia Plath.
1959: First public poem reading at Poet's Theater
March 10th: Anne's mother, Mary Gray Staples Harvey, died of cancer.
June 3rd: Anne's father, Ralph Churchill Harvey, died of cerebral hemorrhage.
August: received Robert Frost Fellowship to attend Bread Loaf Writers'
December: delivered Morris Gray Poetry Lecture at Harvard.
1960: April: To Bedlam and Part Way Back was
published by Houghton Mifflin Company and nominated for National Book Award.
June-July:Enrolled in classes for modern literature at Brandeis University.
1961: Began writing play, Mercy Street. Appointed
to Radcliffe Institute for Independent Study.
1962: All My Pretty Ones was published and
nominated for National Book Award.
November: awarded Levinson Prize from Poetry.
1963: May: Awarded the first traveling fellowship
of the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
August 22nd-October 27th: toured Europe.
1964: Selected Poems was published in England.
1965: Elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature
in London. Received the first literary magazine travel award from the International
Congress of Cultural Freedom.
1966: Live or Die was published.
1967: Awarded Pulitzer Prize for Live or Die.
Received Shelley Award from the Poetry Society of America. Read poetry
at the International Poetry Festival in London. Taught at Wayland High
School in Massachusetts.
1968: Awarded honorary Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard.
Taught poetry at McLean Hospital in Belmont, Massachusetts.
1969: Love Poems was published. Guggenheim
Fellowship for work on the play Mercy Street, produced in New York
City. Awarded honorary Phi Beta Kappa from Radcliffe. Began teaching at
Boston University and conducting workshops for Oberlin College Independent
1970: Awarded honorary Doctor of Letters from Tufts
1971: Transformations was published.
1972: Promoted to a full time professor at Boston
University. The Book Of Folly was published. Crashaw Chair in Literature
at Colgate University. Awarded honorary Doctor of Letters from Fairfield
1973: Awarded honorary Doctor of Letters from Regis
College. Served on the Pulitzer Prize jury.
January: wrote The Awful Rowing Toward God.
February: asked Kayo for a divorce.
March: separated from Kayo.
August: lectured at Bread Loaf Writers' Conference.
November: divorce from Kayo granted.
1974: The Death Notebooks was published.
1974: On October 4th at age 46, Anne Sexton committed
suicide by carbon monoxide poisoning.
Anne Sexton was known or classified
as a confessional poet, one who writes real or fictitious, intimate, and
hidden details of one's life. Sexton's poetry was so confessional
that it was hard to distinguish if she was writing about her life or if
it was just fictitious. Sexton's poetry dealt with subjects that
others found very inappropriate for poetry, especially at this time when
Sexton was writing. She wrote about topics that people-women faced
every day, but didn't talk about so openly and publicly. Some thought her
topics were just too personal to be writing about. Anne did not consider
herself to be a feminist, although she did write such poetry that dealt
with feminist subjects and concerns. Anne Sexton wrote about such topics
as abortion, menstruation, drug addiction, sex, religion, and suicidal
tendencies, along with other such topics. Her poetry explored an
array of various themes and subjects such as those.
Issues and Themes
According to M.L. Rosenthal,
as quoted in Caroline King Barnard Hill's book, Anne Sexton, "Confessional
poetry is a poetry of suffering. The suffering is generally unbearable
because the poetry so often projects breakdown and paranoia. Indeed,
the psychological condition of most of the confessional poets has long
been the subject of common literary dicussion-one cannot say gossip exactly,
for their problems and confinements in hospitals are quite often the specific
subjects of their poems." , this is classical Anne Sexton, according to
Rosenthal's above comments on confessional themes and concerns. Her
poetry, as I said above, is very confessional. Readers can't tell
if the topics she wrote about really happened to her or not. Anne
wrote a lot about her own experiences to the point that it was hard to
criticize her, because she really did go through some of it.
Anne Sexton's first
book of poetry, To Bedlam and Part Way Back, published in 1960,
dealt with the breakdown and poetic independence of Anne Sexton's life.
Her second book, All My Pretty Ones, published in 1962, was a continuation
of her first book of poetry, but its major focus was Anne's concern for
the loss of loved ones that made her breakdown again, due to the fact that
their deaths were very traumatic for her. Her third book, Live
or Die, published in 1966, which Anne later won a Pulitzer Prize for,
dealt with a progress from sickness toward health. Anne's book
Love Poems, published in 1969, dealt with love of loved ones
that she had lost. There was a difference between Sexton's poetry
from early years to her last poems. It is evident in her next book
Transformations, published in 1971, there was shift in her
style, theme and subject (George, Intro.). She became more mythical,
dark, and each of the poems turn on a magical transformation (George, Intro.).
Anne's book, The Book of Folly, published in 1972, went back to
more of her usually themes as before. Then there is a switch-back
in The Death Notebooks, published in1974, back to the mythical side
and going back to her early works. Anne Sexton's last book, The
Awful Rowing Toward God, published in 1975, just before she died, the
theme and subject matter remained the same but with an added touch of joy,
although they were less powerful and imaginative.
Anne Sexton had a hard life
of drug and alcohol addiction, being in and out of mental institutions,
and dealing with the deaths of many loved ones. Around all this she
wrote poetry to express her feelings and at the same time, made a career
for herself by doing so. Although her poetry is very confessional
and sometimes hard to read and understand, she was very good at it.
Her poetry dealt with issues that we can all relate to, in her day and
By Anne Sexton
Tommy is three and when he's bad
his mother dances with him.
She puts on the record,
"Red Roses for a Blue Lady"
and throws him across the room.
she never laid a hand on him,
only the wall laid a hand on him.
He gets "red roses" in different places,
the head, that time he was sleepy as a river,
the back, that time he was a broken scarecrow,
the arm, like a diamond had bitten it,
the leg, twisted like a licorice stick,
all the dance they did together,
Blue Lady and Tommy.
You fell, she said, just remember you fell.
I fell, is all he told the doctors
in the big hospital, a nice lady came
and asked him questions, but because
he didn't want to be sent away, he said,
He never said anything else although he could
He never told about the music
or how she'd sing and shout
holding him up and throwing him.
He pretends he is her ball.
He tries to fold up and bounce
but he squashes like fruit.
For he loves Blue Lady and the spots
of "red roses" she gives him.
I believe the poem
"Red Roses" by
Anne Sexton is about how a mother verbally and/or physically abuses her
son. I believe "Blue Lady" represents Tommy's mother and the "red
roses" symbolize the marks, bruises, and broken bones that Tommy receives
from his mother. I believe Anne Sexton uses the label "Blue Lady" to represent
Tommy's mother for two reasons. First, because of the old saying,
"Roses are red, Violets are blue...", Tommy's "red roses" turn colors like
any other bruise does-red, purple, black, and blue-which therefore reminds
you of that old saying. Secondly, because Tommy's mother is sad or
"blue," and giving Tommy "red roses" makes her happy or lifts her spirits.
Every woman loves "red roses" and the only way she is able to recieve "red
roses" is by abusing Tommy. Which is a bit ironic because Tommy is
the one who actually receives them. Since Anne doesn't mention anything
about a father figure in Tommy's life, you could assume that is the reason
why Tommy's mother is so "blue." I believe Anne Sexton leaves it
up to us to assume this connection.
Tommy is only three years
old, still just a very young child, but when he is "bad" according to his
mother, she dances with him. Dancing is really just a metaphor for
when Tommy's mother abuses him, either by throwing him around or beating
on him. "Blue Lady" likes to refer to the abuse as dancing, that
way to her it doesn't sound so bad as beating on him or abusing him.
Her idea of dancing is throwing Tommy across the room so he will hit the
wall or fall down. So that way "Blue Lady" can say she never laid
a hand on Tommy. But he seems to get "red roses" in different places,
as stated in the poem, such as his head, his back, his arm, and his leg.
Tommy received "red roses" on his head when he was sleepy as a river, meaning
he was limp or incoherent. Tommy's back received "red roses" due
to the fact that he was a broken scarecrow, but really because he was just
going with the flow of the "dance," letting "Blue Lady" throw him around
and toss him front wards and backwards. Tommy's arm was referred
to as a "diamond had bitten it," his arm was really scratched in such a
way that it looked like someone or something had bitten it. Tommy's leg
was twisted in such a way that it looked like a licorice stick, flexible
and turning black and "red" because it was hurt so bad. All this
happened to Tommy when he was dancing with his mother, "Blue Lady."
She would tell Tommy to say he fell, so she wouldn't get into trouble.
When the "dancing" got so bad, Tommy ended up in the hospital. All
he said was that "he fell", despite the abuse he had received from his
mother. Tommy loved her and didn't want to be away from her.
Tommy never spoke again after that. When "Blue Lady" would throw
him around, Tommy would pretend he was her "ball," to a make a game out
of the abuse. Because Tommy is no "ball," he would just squash like
a fruit, meaning he would just fall to the floor. Tommy loves "Blue Lady"
and the "red roses" he receives from her. I believe Tommy really
loved his mother and didn't have anyone else to turn to for help.
So he just lived with the abuse and took whatever she gave him.
The abuse that Tommy received
really affected him, because he never spoke again. Abusing a child
like that can really distort their way of looking at the world and the
things around them. Anne Sexton's poetry dealt with alot of subjects
like this one, everyday topics that real people face in their lifetime.
Sexton's poetry dealt with subjects that some might like to avoid because
they are too personal. Anne Sexton was known or classified as a confessional
poet, one who writes real or fictitious, intimate and hidden details of
one's life. Sexton's poetry was so confessional that it was hard
to distinguish if she was writing about her life or if it was just fictitious.
To Bedlam and Part Way Back (1960)
All My Pretty Ones (1962)
Selected Poems (1964)
Live or Die (1966)
Love Poems (1969)
The Book of Folly (1972)
The Death Notebooks (1974)
The Awful Rowing Toward God (1975)
45 Mercy Street (1976)*
Words for Dr.Y:Uncollected Poems w/ Three
The Complete Poems (1981)
Selected Poems of Anne Sexton (1988)
45 Mercy Street (1976)
Co-authored with Maxine
Eggs of Things (1963)
More Eggs of Things (1964)
Joey and the Birthday Present (1971)
The Wizard's Tears (1975)
Anne Sexton: A Self-Portrait in Letters (1977)
No Evil Star: Selected Essays,Interviews,
and Prose (1985):
"Dancing the Jig" (1960)
"Classroom at Boston University" (1961)
"On 'Some Foreign Letters' " (1962)
"The Last Believer" (1963)
"The Barfly Ought to Sing" (1966)
"For the Year of the Insane" (1967)
"The Letting Down of the Hair" (1972)
"The Freak Show" (1973)
"A Small Journal": "All God's Children Need Radios"
"Journal of a Living Experiment" (1979)
The Academy of American Poets-Poetry Exhibits-Anne Sexton. 1/25/99
Canada, Mark. Canada's America. 1999. http://www.uncp.edu/home/canada/work/canam/canam.htm
Encyclopedia of World Biography. Anne Sexton. Vol.14, pg.125.
George, Diana Hume. Oedipus Anne: The Poetry of Anne Sexton.
Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1987.
---.ed. Sexton: Selected Criticism. Urbana: University of
Illinois Press, 1988.
Hall, Caroline King Barnard. Anne Sexton. Boston: Twayne Publishers,
Middlebrook, Diane Wood. What was Confessional Poetry?. New
York: Columbia University Press, 1993.
---. Anne Sexton: A Biography. Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1991.
Sexton, Anne. The Awful Rowing Toward God. Boston: Houghton
---.Diane Wood Middlebrook & Diana Hume George, eds. Poems Selections.
Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1988.
Written by Courtney
Helena Khan, University of North Carolina at Pembroke, 1999.
by Mark Canada