Anne Sexton's "Her Kind"
Introduction and Text of Poem, "Her Kind"
Anne Sexton's "Her Kind" features a tight structure, three septains (seven-line stanza), with the rime scheme, ABABCBC. Each stanza features the refrain, "I have been her kind," in each of the closing lines.
This poem is structured to allow the speaker to distance herself from the character, or perhaps caricature, that she is dramatizing. She can describe the character from what may seem to be an objective reality.
Yet no reader is fooled into believing the speaker is not describing herself. But to drive the fact home, the speaker has appended that haunting line, flatly stating that she has been that kind of woman whom she is describing.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Sexton performs her poem, "Her Kind"
First Septain: "I have gone out, a possessed witch"
In the first septain, the speaker portrays herself as "a possessed witch," who has gone out prowling the night in search of evil.
On her metaphorical broomstick, the speaker has flown over the "plain houses," looking "light by light" for something that she cannot identify, perhaps some way to fill what she perceives as a hole in her soul.
She describes herself as a "lonely thing," a deformed thing with "twelve-finger[s]." While extra fingers should add to the hands' dexterity, it merely demonstrates her separation from what she imagines is reality.
The speaker also asserts that as this "lonely thing," she is "out of mind," an ambiguity implying that she is not in the minds of others or they do not think much about her, thus the loneliness assertion, and also hinting that perhaps she is the one who is "out of (her) mind."
In attempting to define the speaker's perceived qualities, she hopes to arrive at what she truly is. The speaker then concludes, "A woman like that is not a woman, quite. / I have been her kind."
The speaker's assessment is that when she behaved as a slattern, who went out witchlike searching for evil, she, in fact, was not behaving like a woman, at least not quite. But she admits, or confesses, that she has been that kind of woman.
Second Septain: "I have found the warm caves in the woods"
The second caricature of identity dramatizes a domestic persona, who has set up housekeeping in "warm caves in the woods." She shrouds the domestic scene in a melodramatic isolation, locating it "in the woods," but at least the metaphorical houses (caves) were warm.
The speaker has cooked and maintained the household for the "worms and the elves." The Snow-White fable morphs her family, for whom she has performed the domestic chores, into another threat to her reality.
And as the housewives who lead those lives of hushed anxiety are misunderstood, so is she; the refrain reiterates, "I have been her kind."
Third Septain: "I have ridden in your cart, driver"
The final septain offers a view of the speaker that jars the reader's sensibility. She reports that she had "ridden in your cart, driver." Only in this final septain does the speaker address another individual, and that person is a cartdriver.
The second line's image of "nude arms" waving "at villages going by" suggests a beauty queen on a parade float, smiling and waving at the spectators.
But then the speaker reports that as she waves beauty-queen like at spectators, she is "learning the last bright routes," as a "survivor."
Yet the speaker feels the driver's "flames still bit[ing her] thigh." The Joan-of-Arc allusion soon gives way to a poor battered peasant woman whose "ribs crack" under the wheels of the cartdriver's cart.
The upshot of all this maddening juxtaposition of contradictory imagery is that "A woman like that is not ashamed to die." And the speaker can finally wield an ersatz triumphant, "I have been her kind."
© 2016 Linda Sue Grimes