“Wanting to Die” is a short poem in free verse that divides its thirty-three lines into eleven tercets (three-line stanzas). Because it is written in the first person and is conversational in form, this poem has been described as one of Anne Sexton’s literary suicide notes. Because it presents a speaker attempting to explain to a sympathetic listener why she wants to kill herself, some critics have also suggested that it reads like a discussion between Sexton and her psychiatrist. The use of the first person in a poem often causes readers to assume that the poet’s voice and the speaker’s voice are the same—an assumption that, while often erroneous, holds true for this work. Besides being suicidal herself, Sexton often used letters or personal reminiscences as the foundations for her writing. “Wanting to Die,” in fact, was initially a free-association addendum attached to a letter written to her friend Anne Wilder when Wilder had asked Sexton why she was attracted to suicide. Knowing that Wilder was a psychiatrist and was, therefore, unlikely to overreact to even strong imagery, Sexton addressed Wilder’s very real question in poetic form.
In the opening lines of “Wanting to Die,” Sexton’s speaker chooses to respond honestly to the question posed to her even though the hearer may find the topic repellant. “Since you ask,” she says, she will tell. The speaker describes herself as walking unconsciously through life, unimpressed and...
(The entire section is 550 words.)