The Starry Night

By Anne Sexton 1928–1974 Anne Sexton

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 town does not exist
except where one black-haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.   
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

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:

into that rushing beast of the night,   
sucked up by that great dragon, to split   
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

Anne Sexton, “The Starry Night” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981)

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Poet Anne Sexton 1928–1974

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

Poetic Terms Ekphrasis, Confessional

 Anne  Sexton


Anne Sexton was born in Newton, Massachusetts and raised in Weston. The daughter of a successful businessman, Sexton’s childhood was materially comfortable but not happy. Her relationships with her parents were difficult, perhaps even abusive. Sexton’s closest confidante was her maiden great-aunt. She attended boarding school and after graduation enrolled in Garland Junior College for one year. Sexton later described Garland as . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Painting & Sculpture, Death, Living, Arts & Sciences

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Ekphrasis, Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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