‘The Sickness Unto Death’, by Anne Sexton

God went out of me
as if the sea dried up like sandpaper,
as if the sun became a latrine.
God went out of my fingers.
They became stone.
My body became a side of mutton
and despair roamed the slaughterhouse.

Someone brought me oranges in my despair
but I could not eat a one
for God was in that orange.
I could not touch what did not belong to me.
The priest came,
he said God was even in Hitler.
I did not believe him
for if God were in Hitler
then God would be in me.
I did not hear the bird sounds.
They had left.
I did not see the speechless clouds,
I saw only the little white dish of my faith
breaking in the crater.
I kept saying:
I’ve got to have something to hold on to.
People gave me Bibles, crucifixes,
a yellow daisy,
but I could not touch them,
I who was a house full of bowel movement,
I who was a defaced altar,
I who wanted to crawl toward God
could not move nor eat bread.

So I ate myself,
bite by bite,
and the tears washed me,
wave after cowardly wave,
swallowing canker after canker
and Jesus stood over me looking down
and He laughed to find me gone,
and put His mouth to mine
and gave me His air.

My kindred, my brother, I said
and gave the yellow daisy
to the crazy woman in the next bed.

– Anne Sexton, ‘The Sickness Unto Death’, in The Complete Poems (New York: Mariner Books, 1981), 441–42.

9 thoughts on “‘The Sickness Unto Death’, by Anne Sexton

  1. WOW! It seems peculiar at first, and then gradually makes more and more sense. Wonderful imagery. And then this:
    Jesus stood over me looking down
    and He laughed to find me gone,
    and put His mouth to mine
    and gave me His air.

    Like

  2. In its rawness it was quite striking, very moving and deeply tugging at the heart and soul…i cried.

    Like

  3. it sure touches the deeps in a person…. oh, and Jason … my reading of it is slightly different now…. I learned that she took her own life. Sorry to hear that. Trevor.

    Like

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