Anne Sexton (1928-74) is one of the poets I learned about in a poetry class last semester. I took to her immediately.
Sexton was severely depressed following the birth of her daughter in 1953. She was institutionalized several times, and one of her therapists suggested she start writing to get her feelings out. She was part of the Confessional poetry that was gaining popularity; unlike poets of past, her “I” was certainly her, not a detached “speaker.”
Her poem today is “Portrait of an Old Woman on the College Tavern Wall.” Open up the link and read it over, or you can listen to it read.
Oh down at the tavernthe children are singingaround their round tableand around me still.Did you hear what it said?
I only saidhow there is a pewter urnpinned to the tavern wall,as old as old is ableto be and be there still.
Across the room is a wreathmade of a corpse’s hair,framed in glass on the wall,as old as old is ableto be and be remembered still.
Then we have another realization: the “portrait” the title refers to may not be a portrait at all. The speaker refers to a “wreath…framed in glass on the wall.” That seems a lot more like a mirror, to me, than a portrait. It fits with the speaker’s wistful attitude, her fixation on age, and the children’s nasty jibes.
And I would, and I would butit’s my hair in the hair wreath,my cup pinned to the tavern wall,my dusty face they sing beneath.