Live Or Die

The 3rd published book of poems by Anne Sexton

Published in: 1966
ISBN: 0-395-08180-7
Containing poems written from January 25, 1962 to February 1966.

Poems contained in Live or Die:
  • And One for My Dame
  • The Sun
  • Flee on Your Donkey
  • Three Green Windows
  • Somewhere in Africa
  • Imitations of Drowning
  • Mother and Jack and the Rain
  • Consorting with Angels
  • The Legend of the One-eyed Man
  • Love Song
  • Man and Wife
  • Those times . .
  • Two Sons
  • To Lose the Earth
  • Sylvia's Death
  • Protestant Easter
  • For the Year of the Insane
  • Crossing the Atlantic
  • Walking in Paris
  • Menstruation at Forty
  • Christmas Eve
  • KE 6-8018
  • Wanting to Die
  • The Wedding Night
  • Little Girl, My Stringbean, My Lovely Woman
  • A Little Uncomplicated Hymn
  • Your Face on a Dog's Neck
  • Self in 1958
  • Suicide Note
  • In the Beach House
  • Cripples and Other Stories
  • Pain for a Daughter
  • The Addict
  • Live

    This book contains many poems that were originally published in magazines. Here are the magazine and poem(s) that were republished in Live or Die:

    The Carleton Miscellany:  And One for My Dame, Consorting with Angels

    Critical Quarterly (England):  Those Times . . ., Christmas Eve

    Encounter (England):  Walking in Paris

    Harper's Magazine:  Mother and Jack and the Rain, For the Year of the Insane, Love Song

    The Hudson Review:  Imitiations of Drowning, To Lose the Earth, Crossing the Atlantic, Menstruation at Forty, Two Songs

    The New Yorker:  The Sun, Three Green Windows; Little Girl, My Stringbean, My lovely Woman; Your Face on the Dog's Neck; Pain for a Daughter

    The Observer (England) (18 October 1964):  Wanting to Die

    Poetry:  Somwhere in Africa KE 6-8018, The Wedding Night, Sylvia's Death

    The Sewanee Review:  The Legend of the One-eyed Man

    Tri-Quarterly:   Suicide Note, The Addict, Protestant Easter, Man and Wife, Cripples and Other Stories, Live


    Anne Sexton said in the Author's Note at the beginning of Live or Die about her poems that "... they were written with all due apologies for the fact that they read like a fever chart for a bad case of melancholy."

    The writing on the back of the book agrees yet, disagrees.. "Much of her experince is rendered as nightmare but it is significant that the final poem is stunningly affirmative, its title the single command "Live".



    Some highlights on a few poems:


    The poem "Sylvia's Death" is about Sylvia Plath, long time freind of Anne's and her suicide.

    "Consorting with Angels" is a eerie and cryptic poem about Anne's alienation with being female folded up into a cloud of one of her dreams. I believe that Anne's childhood had a lot to do with her alienation of the feminine, as is the case with a lot of women and men, but she had the voice to talk about it. Bravery like this is to be applauded.

    "Protestant Easter" is about her view of easter when she was an eight year old, with her many years of reflection folded in since then. Mostly she thinks protestants sing when they aren't quite sure about what happened to Jesus. This easter poem lightly touches on a deeper disillusionment that Anne had with religion in general.

    "Those Times" and "Cripples and Other Stories" mention brief snippets of Anne's surivival of sexual abuse by her mother. This is such a taboo that I think it is wonderful that a poet and public figue, especially back in the 1960's, came out with such raw and honest material and was published so widely.

    "Cripples and Other Stories" was written in less than an hour1 and Anne had thrown it away, which Maxine Kumin thought she had done out of embarrassment (Anne is known as quite a confessional poet). Maxine helped Anne fish the poem out of the wastebasket and after ressurecting it, they worked together to make the tone more consistent and to smooth out some of the rythmically crude spots. Anne was very much a graceful rhythm editing machine, as her writing is filled with purposeful spaces and wonderful poetic dignity. This poem also details how Anne became a cripple (her left arm was caught in a laundry wringer as a child). It is filled with glimpses of Anne's inner torment and story.

    "Little Girl, My Stringbean, My Lovely Woman" is about Linda Gray Sexton, one of Anne's daughters. The poem is about her daughter at almost age 12, and sketches out a mother watching her daughter be born twice, and a mother stepping back and allowing her daughter to live her own life... "I'm here, that somebody else, and old tree in the background."

    "Self in 1958" is an account of how the author feels disconnected from herself and reality in general. It is quite dissociative and filled with how Anne feels that her life is fake, as if she has been planted there, and that someone is playing doll with her. It is the perfect portrait of the inside brain clockworks of a disembodied person who feels that no one is taking her for what she is, because to her, she doesn't exist.

    "Live", the final poem in Live or Die, is the finale, the relief after a good sobbing and the seeing of the sunshine after many years of dark clouds. The inspiration for this poem came from an early draft of Herzog by Saul Bellow:

    "With one long breath, caught and held
    in his chest, he fought his sadness over
    his solitary life. Don't cry, you idiot!

    Live or Die, but don't poison everything..."




    The last poem, "Live", is bittersweet, as Anne didn't choose life, but death, and killed herself at age 46.


    1.   Reference, "The Complete Poems" by Anne Sexton, foreward by Maxine Kumin, 1999.
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