The Mnemosyne Weekly: Poem Twenty-Seven (Sexton)


The Starry Night
painting by Vincent Van Gogh
poem by Anne Sexton
Planning my December ekphrastic poetry course for The Rooster Moans Poetry Cooperative has got me thinking about ekphrasis, and though I may not use this particular pairing for the workshop, Sexton is one of my favorite poets, and Van Gogh is one of my favorite painters, so, needless to say, this poem thrills and delights me, despite the grim subject matter! In fact, as you will see below, Sexton herself expresses a great deal of zest and ecstatic feeling–again, despite (or maybe because of) the grim subject matter.
I’m sure everyone already knows who Van Gogh is, and I hope everyone knows who Sexton is, but if you are not familiar with her, she was one of the confessional poets of the 1950’s and 1960’s era of American poetry. I’ve always admired her unique voice, her incredible gift with imagery, and her capacity to lay herself bare on the page.
So here’s one masterpiece inspired by another:

The Starry Night

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.

This is a small representation of the high-quality writings you’ll find in every issue of TIFERET.

We receive no outside funding and rely on digital issues, workshop fees, and donations to publish. If you enjoy our journal’s verbal and visual offerings, we hope you’ll consider supporting us in one of these ways.

Click Here to Purchase Digital Issues