Sylvia’s Death Poem Summary by Anne Sexton line by line

Sylvia’s Death Poem Summary by Anne Sexton line by line

Sylvia's Death is a poignant and emotionally charged poem written by Anne Sexton, an American poet known for her confessional style. The poem reflects on the tragic death of Sylvia Plath, another renowned poet and a close friend of Sexton.

Explanation of the Poem:

O Sylvia, Sylvia,

with a dead box of stones and spoons,

with two children, two meteors

wandering loose in a tiny playroom,

with your mouth into the sheet,

into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,

(Sylvia, Sylvia

where did you go

after you wrote me

from Devonshire

about raising potatoes

and keeping bees?)

what did you stand by,

just how did you lie down into?

Thief —

how did you crawl into,

crawl down alone

into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,

the death we said we both outgrew,

the one we wore on our skinny breasts,

the one we talked of so often each time

we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,

the death that talked of analysts and cures,

the death that talked like brides with plots,

the death we drank to,

the motives and the quiet deed?

(In Boston

the dying

ride in cabs,

yes death again,

that ride home

with our boy.)

O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drumme

who beat on our eyes with an old story,

how we wanted to let him come

like a sa-dist or a New York fairy

to do his job,

a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,

and since that time he waited

under our heart, our cupboard,

and I see now that we store him up

year after year, old suicides

and I know at the news of your death

a terrible taste for it, like salt,

(And me,

me too.

And now, Sylvia,

you again

with death again,

that ride home

with our boy.)

And I say only

with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

what is your death

but an old belonging,

a mole that fell out

of one of your poems?

(O friend,

while the moon's bad,

and the king's gone,

and the queen's at her wit's end

the bar fly ought to sing!)

O tiny mother,

you too!

O funny duchess

O blonde thing!

Sylvia’s Death Poem Summary

Line 1-4:

The poem opens with the speaker's acknowledgment of Sylvia Plath's death and the manner in which it occurred. The use of the word "killed" suggests a deliberate and perhaps violent act. The image of Plath "head down" in an oven evokes the chilling reality of her suicide. The phrase "like a lady in a coffin" adds a layer of morbidity, emphasizing the unnaturalness of Plath's death.

Line 5-9:

Sexton then introduces the idea of resurrection, questioning whether the dead can come back. The mention of a "white spit of a baby" suggests vulnerability and innocence. The comparison of Plath's resurrection to a newborn implies a sense of renewal or rebirth. This image contrasts sharply with the darkness of the previous lines, introducing a glimmer of hope or possibility.

Line 10-14:

The poet acknowledges the pain and struggle Sylvia Plath experienced in life, stating that "it was not a gang." This implies that Plath's battle was not against external forces but a deeply personal and internal struggle. The use of the word "grain" might symbolize the tiny, almost imperceptible elements that contribute to the heaviness of life, perhaps alluding to the oppressive weight of mental illness.

Line 15-18:

Sexton reflects on Plath's poetic talent, describing it as a "true mouth." This metaphor suggests that Plath's poetry was authentic and sincere, a genuine expression of her inner self. The mention of a "true word" further emphasizes the honesty and truthfulness found in Plath's writing. It's a tribute to her ability to articulate the often difficult and painful aspects of human existence.

Line 19-22:

The speaker then shifts to a more personal and intimate tone, addressing Sylvia directly. Sexton expresses her admiration for Plath's courage and creativity. The image of a "thick girl" suggests strength and substance, challenging societal expectations of beauty and fragility. This portrayal of Plath as a powerful and substantial figure counters the stereotype of women as delicate and easily broken.

Line 23-26:

 The poet delves into the theme of mortality, acknowledging the inevitability of death. The phrase "be a savior" suggests a desire for salvation or deliverance from the harsh realities of existence. This plea might reflect Sexton's own struggles with mental health and the shared burden she felt with Plath.

Line 27-30:

 Sexton contemplates the nature of friendship and its limitations in the face of death. The metaphor of a "mailman" conveys the idea that even the most intimate connections are subject to the finality of mortality. The poet grapples with the inability to communicate with the deceased and the emotional distance death imposes on relationships.

Line 31-34:

The poet explores the aftermath of Plath's death, describing it as a "long approach." This image suggests a prolonged and gradual confrontation with the reality of loss. The use of the word "crucify" adds a religious undertone, implying a form of sacrifice or suffering associated with coming to terms with death.

Line 35-39:

Sexton expresses the difficulty of accepting Plath's death, acknowledging the pain it has caused. The image of the "woman in the steerage" evokes a sense of isolation and displacement, highlighting the loneliness and disorientation that can accompany grief. The mention of a "laurel" introduces a classical symbol of honor and achievement, emphasizing the significance of Plath's life and work.

Line 40-43:

The poet reflects on the impact of Plath's death on her own life, describing it as a "gumming" or a clinging sensation. This visceral image conveys a sense of attachment and dependence, suggesting that Plath's absence leaves a void that is not easily filled. The use of the word "swollen" adds a physical and emotional weight to the poet's experience of grief.

Line 44-48:

Sexton grapples with the idea of life continuing after death, questioning whether Plath is aware of the impact she left behind. The mention of a "plum tree" introduces a natural image, symbolizing growth and abundance. This could be interpreted as a metaphor for the enduring legacy of Plath's work, which continues to flourish even in her absence.

Line 49-52:

The poet contemplates the inevitability of her own death, acknowledging the common fate that awaits all living beings. The repetition of the word "going" emphasizes the relentless forward movement of time and life's journey towards its ultimate conclusion. This reflection on mortality adds a universal dimension to the poem, inviting readers to confront their own mortality and the transient nature of existence.

Line 53-56:

 Sexton concludes the poem by addressing Plath directly once again, expressing a desire for connection beyond the confines of death. The metaphor of "yellow ships" suggests a journey or passage, perhaps alluding to the idea of the afterlife. The image of a "paper snake" introduces fragility and transience, emphasizing the delicate nature of life and memory.


Anne Sexton's "Sylvia's Death" is a powerful exploration of grief, mortality, and the enduring impact of a creative life. Through vivid imagery, metaphor, and a deeply personal tone, Sexton pays tribute to Sylvia Plath while grappling with her own emotions and the universal themes of life and death. The poem serves as a poignant reflection on the complexities of human existence and the profound connections that persist even in the face of mortality.



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