The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“All My Pretty Ones” is the title poem of Anne Sexton’s intensely confessional second book of poetry, All My Pretty Ones (1962), and it reflects that volume’s absorption with loss and death. This poem consists of five ten-line stanzas and resembles the form of most of the companion poems in the volume. The poem’s title comes from William Shakespeare’s Macbeth (1606), when Macduff mourns the loss of his wife and children. In March of 1959, Anne Sexton’s mother died, followed in June of the same year by Sexton’s father. “All My Pretty Ones” is a monologue addressed to Sexton’s dead father as she sorts through her parents’ possessions.

In the first stanza, Sexton looks over her father’s meager “leftovers”: a key, some stock certificates, clothing, a car, his will, and a box of photographs. She is recording a moment that many children must endure: the closing of a parent’s affairs, the moment when the living children must literally discard artifacts not only of their parents’ lives but also of their own. She sees her task as one of helping her father to free himself from the tangles of his now past life. The stanza concludes with her decision to throw away the items that she has found.

In the second stanza, Sexton continues to gaze on the photographs in the box, wondering at the images she sees, unable to identify many of the now long-dead people with any degree of certainty. She looks at a...

(The entire section is 545 words.)