This is an essay about Anne Sexton’s poem “The Addict,” It describes how Anne Sexton tried desperately tried to rid herself of mental illness and drug addiction. She wrote from her heart and her personal experience.
The hymn “When Peace Like a River Attended my Way,” was written out of great despair; the writer whole family perished at sea and when he came to the area in the ocean he went to his cabin and penned this famous hymn. Like her counterpart, Anne Sexton’s poetry is born out of great depression; she began to write poetry drawing from her own experience as she struggled with mental illness; “The Addict” is one of these famous poems, in it she uses figurative to express herself explicitly.
In a time when airing personal issues were taboo, Anne Sexton faced the world bravely and deviates from the norm of poetry and start writing about the problems in her own life. After the birth of her first child she was struck with postmortem depression as she struggles with her illness, her therapist encouraged her to write. In the darkest days of her life she became a poet. As the years pass she became an abuser of both alcohol and drugs. When she wrote “The Addict,” she was writing from her own life story; she had firsthand experience. She writes like no one else; her command of figurative language adds spice to her poetry. Charity Kandall says: ‘“The Addict,” a soliloquy spoken by a troubled woman as she downed her nightly cocktail of potent pills. The poem’s imagery, its tone of emotional extremity, its immediacy, the dread and longing behind its every line—I’d never read anything like it” (2005).
The poem immediately grabs one’s attention. “Sleepmonger,/ deathmonger,/ With capsules in my palms each night,” one wants to know what is coming next. The next line of the poem is easy to cipher other than the fact that the phrase; “sweet pharmaceutical bottles” is ambiguous; it could mean that the pills from the bottle are literally sweet; or it could mean the anticipation of swallowing the pills will put her in a sweet psychedelic mood, her “pint size journey “is the metaphor for the alcohol that she will take after the pills that will take her into oblivion. The first seven lines of the poem seems as if she is blasé, addressing her condition with humor, however in line eight she changes her tone to appear more serious. She speaks like an inner voice is rebuking her, “yes you do all of this each night, but how did you get here; did you plan any of this? She sobers up and acknowledges that her journey to despair is not really her fault; it is the illness that possesses her, she is even a little defensive as she says: “and now they say I'm an addict” The first stanza ends and Sexton acts confuse, but it is really sarcasm she wonders why anyone would say she is an addict.
Anne Sexton mockery continues into the next stanza and even though she does not use figurative in lines one through three, her diction allows the reader to see, and feel. One can just see her practicing to die the way an athlete warms up for a run. As a matter of fact, those lines are a little funny. She personifies the pills and calls them her mother. Sexton spends most of her adult life fighting mental illness and the urge to kill herself which she succumbed to eventually, Nonetheless, her assumed nonchalance towards her addiction and death is just a façade; look at the line at the end of this stanza “I'm on a diet from death.” Notice she did not say for death, she says “from death.” On the surface the poem depicts Sexton as waltzing with death, abuse of drugs and alcohol usually lead to an early death. The poem is Ms. Sexton reaching out for help by expressing her inner most feelings rather than keeping them in; and that can also lead to death too. On the contrary says Anne Gary Harvey, (1980) “Her poetry explores dark and secret areas of the mind, revealing the fearful isolation that accompanies emotional anguish. The critical evaluation of Sexton's work, while acknowledging its energy and respecting its candor, has frequently found her poetry solipsistic and uneven in quality.”
In stanzas one, two, and three she opens each one making fun of herself; the first two lines in stanza three is almost a repeat of lines three and four in stanza one. The rest of the third stanza is metaphorical. Her constant night cap of eight pills has caused her eyes to become blood-shot, “socked in the eye.” Here she dips into metaphorical description, the pink, the orange and the green are imagery of the ambulance that takes her to the hospital. “The white goodnights” and the sterile hospital room painted in white and the white straight jacket or hospital robe in which she is enrobed. At the end of the stanza her tone changes to one of surprise or it could be interpreted as one of defense..
As Anne struggles with addiction that has plagued her for years she came to realization that she is not winning this battle and she knows that she will be on these pills for many more years if they do not kill her first. Aware of this knowledge, she begins the fourth stanza, “My supply/of tablets/ has got to last for years and years.” In the journal, Great American Writers of the Twentieth Century, Marshall Cavendish says that despite Mrs. Sexton’s fight to gain control of her life, neither family; friends or her writing which she uses as a catharsis could save her. She spiraled into destruction riding a wild horse at break-neck speed (1360). Sexton’s tone constantly changes in this stanza she seems to have given up, she says to herself, “what is the use of trying, I am always going to be sick.” The diction in this whole stanza is one of acceptance.
Even for a fleeting moment we have all come to a juncture in the road and we feel that all our energy is spent and we feel like giving up, this is where Mrs. Sexton is only she has been there so long she is convinced that this is how her life will be until her illness kills her. She spends the rest of the poem using a different flow of figurative language saying the same thing over and over. One would think that she is trying to convince her readers to label her to make fun of her or to eschew her. She explains that becoming hooked on the pills started out innocently; she classifies herself as a closet drinker “I don't make too much noise.” “And I don't stand there in my winding sheet,” meaning that she does not choose to commit suicide like others do, like jumping from a building with her clothe flapping behind her. She alludes to herself as a litter buttercup in her yellow nightie; she is a coward she could not choose such a dauntless way to kill herself. Again she describes how she takes her pills, this time she adds color to them as if making them pretty will make them look less harmful.
In the next two stanzas of the poem Mrs. Sexton changes herself into a raving mad woman. She is a mentally ill, drug addicted, alcoholic person. One can imagine her as a drunken person at party in a corner having a monologue laughing without a care in the world. She expresses that killing herself has rules just like sports and popping the pills is like a tennis game and one does not need much imagination to see she throwing each pill in her mouth. She compares her ritual as to a church service, a communion service and the pills are placed in her mouth as the and the pills are the sacrament, black sacrament, for one to make such fun of something so solemn, one must be truly mad. The poem ends with her making fun of her prayers, and illustrating how she goes to sleep at nights, or maybe how she will go when the drugs kill her.
This poem just goes to show that mental illness is no respecter of person. It can happen to anyone; it is truly amazing how one with such command of language could have fallen into such degradation. Robert Boyes says: ‘“The Addict” describes the part of Sexton that is a deathmongerwhat has not been remark about these poems (“The Addict” and others) however, it is their imagery, tone and often their explicit argument speak against suicide; Sexton is not flirting with death but attempting to exorcise personal demons” (1995, pp159).
Boyes, Robert. (1995) Live or Die: “Achievements of Anne Sexton” University of Michigan Press
Cavendish, Marshall. Great American Writers of the Twentieth Century. Vol. 20, 1360. University of Illinois.
Gray-Harvey, Anne. Contemporary Literary Criticism, Vol 15, 1980 “Anne Sexton” Retrieved from Anne Sexton - Critical Essay– Anne – Gray - Harvey
Kendall, Charity. Journal of Evolutionary Psychology, Vol. 26, No. 1-2, March 2005 “Anne Sexton-Making More of One's Own Life through the Creation of Metaphor “
McClatchy, J. D. “Anne Sexton.” vol-15 1960 Retrieved from Anne Sexton Critical Essay -/j- d-mcclatchy