the starry night anne sexton analysis
This poem is inspired by Vincent Van Gogh’s famous painting Starry Night. It begins with a quote from a letter written by Van Gogh, which says that, despite himself, he has a deep, “terrible” need for religion, and that it is when he feels this need that he goes out and “paint[s] the stars”. I think there is something profound here about man’s need for something eternal and sacred. Though Van Gogh didn’t want religion in his life, he nevertheless had a need for the sacred. By creating art — by going out and painting the stars — Van Gogh was in effect immortalising the beauty of the world. He was acknowledging the transcendent power of beauty. Though he may not necessarily feel the presence of the Divine, a painter understands eternity, and s/he understands the holiness of beauty.
Van Gogh was a tortured, troubled artist just as Sexton was. When you look at ‘Starry Night’, the painting, there is such movement in the brushstrokes, and such turbulence — almost violence — in the thick swirling sky with its “eleven stars”, boiling in the “hot sky.” I love Sexton’s description of the painting, with the “black-haired tree” slipping up “like a drowned woman into the hot sky”. This particular description really struck me. When you look at the painting you will see that the tree does indeed look as though it were made of hair. There is something so dark and sinister about that image — it’s so “alive”, and “it moves”, as Sexton writes. I love the way the night “boils” in the poet’s description, because that is exactly how the painting looks to me.
To emphasize the dark admiration for the bravery depicted through the tree, to make her meaning clearer, she continues, “This is how/ I want to die.” This refrain is a sort of mantra repeated twice in the poem.
“The Starry Night”, inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same title, is a short, free-verse poem by Anne Sexton where she identifies with another tortured and suicidal artist and makes comparisons between her own life and the masterpiece she is talking about.
It begins with a quote from one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, in which he says that, despite himself, he has a deep, “terrible” need for religion, and when he feels this need, he has to go out and “paint the stars”.
Though Van Gogh didn’t want religion in his life, he nevertheless needed the sacred and it was through the creation of art (when he went out at night to paint the stars) that he was trying to understand the holiness of beauty and to make it eternal
It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:
That does not keep me from having a terrible need of – shall I say the word – religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars. – Vincent Van Gogh in a letter to his brother
THE POEM TO ME IS CONSIDERD TO BE A PLEA OF DEATH, HE SEES NO POINT OF LIVING, AFTER HOURS NO ONE CARES THAT HE EXISTS…ALL HE HAS TO DEPEND ON IS THE STARS AND THE DARK NIGHT. HE COULD COUNT ON THE MOON, BUT THE MOON HAS OTHER PRORITIES,AND HIS EXISTENCE IS NOT ONE.
I have to agree with Shawn. The first time I ever read this poem (in tenth grade), I was struck with the sense that the speaker herself wanted to die. I immediately got the feeling that Anne Sexton was suicidal. And then my teacher confirmed it. About her battle with depression, her suicide attempts, her hospitalization, and eventual death. It really is quite amazing how much this poem and Anne Sexton’s life go hand-in-hand. It’s as if she was speaking in code about her own life, daring someone to figure out the riddle and know the dreadful fate she wished for herself.
The “great dragon”, “rushing beast of the night”, and “unseen serpent” all illustrate powerful forces to which the speaker longs to surrender. They are powers nonexistent in the town; like the blazing, luminous stars, they are a part of the glory of the sky. The word “rushing” also complements the atmosphere of agitation and motion.
In Anne Sexton’s poem “The Starry Night”, the speaker seems attracted to suicide as a form of power; however, this surrender and annihilation can paradoxically be interpreted as a deliberate choice or a striving towards life.