Live or Die : unmasking the mythologies of Anne Sexton's poetry
McKenna, Edward Francis
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Confessional poetry is supposedly drawn directly from the poet's personal life as if the poems are simply a diary. Further, confessional poetry is often dissected with such a finite Freudian, Bloomian, Jungian, etc., scalpel by reviewers, pundits, and critics, that the true roots of the poems are constantly overlooked; that of the essence of mythology. Critics, scholars, and purveyors of Anne Sexton continually refuse to acknowledge the influence of mythologies, the inspiration of previous and contemporary poets, and that Sexton admittedly relied on myths to write poetry. Utilizing Northrop Frye's theory that all of literature is displaced myth, I have displayed that so is the poetry of Anne Sexton. I have attempted to illustrate that when the poems of Sexton are juxtaposed with many of the common themes of myths, Classical and Christian, it becomes apparent that she is mythologizing herself. To prove my thesis I utilized the works of Northrop Frye as well as Mircea Eliade, Jessie Weston, and Robert Graves who expound on concepts of rituals, cults, and the mythological roots of literature. I also researched Classical and Christian mythologies so to be able to juxtapose them with Sexton's poetry. In addition to thoroughly studying the poetry of Sexton (most specifically, Live or Die) I also read biographies and essays on her, and examined all available journals and collections of letters. A poet's personal memoirs often expose sources and inspirations for their poetry, allowing the critic to trace the poetry to a previously published piece of literature or well-chronicled myth. Finally, by reading the aforementioned resources I deduced the influences of Sexton's poetry, and purveyed them as well. In conclusion, this project has confirmed there is nothing original about confessional poetry; especially considering the familiar themes such as death, rebirth, and resurrection, and the universal controlling forces of many of the poems such as the moon, sun, God, etc. Sexton's poetry is not "confessional" at all other than that it reveals an intrinsic reliance on the past and myths to tell of a quest relative to that of many Biblical characters, including Christ.