Anne Sexton was plagued with depression during most of her adult life and she eventually committed suicide
in 1974. This tragedy was brought on by a culmination of several traumatic events in Sexton's life, one including the death of her parents, who both died in the same year. Sexton's mother died in March of 1959, and her father followed soon after in June. Sexton's dramatic poem, "The Truth the Dead
Know," is a poetic examination of her emotions after her father's funeral
. Sexton's sense of rhyme
is well developed in the poem, and by combining the use of symbols and similes in the somber piece, the poem becomes a wonderfully descriptive probe
into the Sexton's emotions after the death of both her parents.
The rhythmic pattern of words in "The Truth the Dead Know" creates a rhyming beat within each stanza and endows the poem with a much stronger sound as it is read. In the first stanza, the pattern of abab is comparable to a heartbeat, with a recurring rhyme that continues throughout the poem. Rhyming words such as "church" and "hearse" and "stones" and "alone" make the rhythm both solid and morose, since the poem (which is read like a heartbeat) is about death. At times, certain sentences in the poem are especially short, such as in the line, "It is June. I am tired of being brave," or "No one's alone./Men kill for this, or for as much." The shortness of some of these lines give the poem a sense of finality, perhaps like the end of a heartbeat. Sexton uses this within her rhymes to reveal how she feels; the death of her parents is the death of two heartbeats.
Symbolism in the poem is crucial in relation to the theme of death. The subject of water recurs several times with lines such as "whitehearted water," and "stone boats." Also, in the beginning of the second stanza the speaker claims, "We drive to the Cape." Water is a symbol for life; water is always moving with its eternal waves and rolling tides. Perhaps Sexton drives to the Cape to get back to "life", or at least some sense of it. The only thing that appears alive in the poem is the water, since "the wind falls in like stones" and the dead "lie without shoes/ in their stone boats." In Sexton's poem stone symbolizes death; stone is heavy, silent, and motionless.
The use of similes also make the poem more forceful and give a better understanding of how the speaker feels about her parents' death. In the second stanza Sexton writes that after the funeral, she and her husband drive to the Cape, "Where the sea swings in like an iron gate/ and we touch." Describing the sea like an "iron gate" is an indirect reference to death. This "iron gate" that closes is like a gate that typically leads to a cemetery. She claims that it "swings in" as well; the gate is swift as death is swift. Also, the idea of stone is used in several similes in the poem. According to Sexton, "The wind falls in like stones," and when she speaks of the dead, "They are more like stone/ than the sea would be if it stopped." Again, stone is death. Sexton feels as though everything around her is dead with the exception of her husband and the sea. She writes about her husband that "When we touch/ we enter touch entirely." This is a beautiful way to depict the need of her husband at this moment. She holds onto her husband for support and to the sea as well, since the sea is always alive.
Sexton has a brilliant sense of rhyme and meaning in "The Truth the Dead Know." The emotional upset of her parents' passing left her feeling empty and "dead." She wrote a terrific poem packed with her sorrow, and all of her sadness and frustration is revealed through the rhyme and symbolic images in the poem. "The Truth the Dead Know" is a great and touching piece, written out of Sexton's overwhelming sadness.