Note: In my opinion, this is one of Anne Sexton’s best works. Inspired by Sylvia Plath’s death, this poem resonates with perception. It rationalizes suicide as a form of addiction—an idea agreed upon by Plath and Sexton. Sexton refers to suicide as an ‘unnameable lust.’ She likens suicides to carpenters who never ask ‘why build.’
In the poem, there is an effort to resist death’s calling. But ultimately, the desire for death (as something equated by the persona to happiness) appears strong and relentless. At the end of the poem, Sexton touches upon the most blatant promise of suicide—unfinished business.
Wanting to Die
by Anne Sexton
Since you ask, most days I cannot remember.
I walk in my clothing, unmarked by that voyage.
Then the almost 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 which tools.
They never ask why build.
Twice I have so simply declared myself,
Have possessed the enemy, eaten the enemy,
Have taken on his craft, his magic.
In this way, heavy and thoughtful,
Warmer than oil or water,
I have rested, drooling at the mouth-hole.
I did not think of my body at needle-point.
Even the cornea and the leftover urine were gone.
Suicides have already betrayed the body.
Still-born, they don’t always die,
But dazzled, they can’t forget a drug so sweet
That even children would look on and smile.
To thrust all that life under your tongue!—
That, all by itself, becomes a passion.
Death’s a sad Bone; bruised, you’d say,
And yet she waits for me, year after year,
To so delicately undo an old wound,
To empty my breath from its bad prison.
Balanced there, suicides sometimes meet,
Raging at the fruit, a pumped-up moon,
Leaving the bread they mistook for a kiss,
Leaving the page of the book carelessly open,
Something unsaid, the phone off the hook
And the love, whatever it was, an infection.
Image from: LitStack.com