Analysis of Poem "Her Kind" by Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton and Her Kind
Her Kind is a short poem which, although not directly confessional, deals with the nature of the woman's role in life and the alienation that can bring. It has strong imagery, like that from a fairytale, and hints at death and sexuality.
Anne Sexton began writing poetry after suffering depression and was keenly aware of her different personas - she was a loving wife and mother as well as a performing poet, but her ongoing mental health issues forced her into very dark places from time to time.
Her Kind has featured in all manner of anthology and has also been published in magazines such as The British Journal of Psychiatry.
The poem attempts to capture this idea of the woman with multiple personalities, expected to conform to societal rules and norms yet unable or unwilling to restrict the self. And so the boundaries are tested by the suburban witch, who is the wild mother and the fateful femme fatale.
By using the metaphorical witch persona, Anne Sexton is connecting her current feelings as an outcast and oddball, with those of the historical witch, persecuted and misunderstood for being 'different.'
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.
Analysis of Her Kind
Her Kind has tight rhyme and loose rhythm. The end rhymes are all full whilst the rhythm, the beats, are roughly iambic yet definitely off the beaten track, a reflection of the speaker's dance with alternative states of being.
- Note the lines with nine syllables and some with ten and eleven, taking the reader further away from convention.
Seven lines per stanza, the magical number, and three personas inhabiting the poem make for a rich if temptingly ambiguous read. The speaker is certainly one who has, to quote Robert Frost, 'been acquainted with the night' and presumably returns to the real world, like some adventuring, malevolent vampire, once the sun is up.
Analysis Stanza by Stanza of Her Kind
Written in the first person, Her Kind is a poem about subversity, the speaker acknowledging that she has been all three personas at some time in her life - the witch, the mother, the adulteress. It is stated matter of factly in the last line of each stanza: I have been her kind.
The speaker has been a witch, metaphorically of course, possessed by a demon spirit, which immediately suggests that this persona is supernatural, inhabiting a world beyond normal thought and culture. The language is dark, weird and gothic; note the use of possessed, haunting, black, evil, lonely, twelve fingered, out of mind.
She is flying over the plain houses of suburbia, implying that down there life is ordinary and boring and tedious and the only way to overcome it is to live in the darker dream, to stretch the limits of sanity. The judgemental eyes of surburbia are on her during the day, so best emerge at night.
This is no ordinary witch, she has twelve fingers (which makes her a bit freaky and is bound to alienate people), is lonely and doesn't function well in the daylight, doesn't get on in the 9 - 5 world, and doesn't quite feel a complete woman when she's in this mode of being.
- Hitch is an unusual word to use and done my hitch even more of a challenge to understand.To hitch-hike is to travel on the road thumbing a lift. A hitch is some minor problem or issue. To hitch is to jerkily move something, to connect - and this meaning seems to work best in this context.
Anne Sexton loved fairytales and myths and the second stanza takes the reader further out into this other world and an alternative role to that of the suburban housewife. Again, this could be the metaphorical witch discovering the caves.
A cave is an archetypal home or safe-place where traditionally things of great value are stored, such as gold or treasure. The fact that this cave is in a wood adds another layer of symbolism to this story, the wood being the place where people get lost, meet good or evil entities, experience a breakthrough.
Possessions become a focus, from a skillet to silks, that is, objects from the middle-class kitchen to the perfumed bedroom. And the offspring have to be fed, be they worm or elf, keeping everything in its right order.
The role of the lonely housewife, looking after the home and the kids, is brought into sharp focus in this second stanza. Although Sexton wrote this poem at a time when most women were expected to be queens of the domestic scene, before the onset of feminism, the issue still resonates today.
Women who are stigmatised for living life unconventionally are misunderstood by society. The speaker, in candid fashion, admits that she has experienced society's wrong judgement.
Third Stanza Her Kind
The third stanza continues with the witch theme, this time introducing a medieval torture device, the wheel, and execution by fire. Witches were tortured and burnt at the stake (notably in 17th century Europe and in Salem USA).
Sexton is presenting the reader with the idea that she (the speaker) is the equivalent to a 17th century witch and that all women are potentially threatened by society if they are deemed unconventional or unworthy.
In a bold sixth line the speaker claims that she is not ashamed to die (for living an alternative life) because she has done no wrong. Society is to blame, for it forces individuals to conform and if they find fault then these individuals are put on trial, and ultimately, eliminated.
© 2017 Andrew Spacey