The Truth the Dead Know by Anne Sexton: Analysis

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  • 0:04 The Poem Itself
  • 1:03 Structure and Style of…
  • 1:54 Analysis of the Poem
  • 4:28 Lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Amy Anderson
In the poem 'The Truth the Dead Know,' Anne Sexton writes about the grief of losing both her parents. The poem is known for its vivid imagery and confessional style.

The Poem Itself

First thing's first. Let's take a look at Ann Sexton's poem 'The Truth the Dead Know:'

Gone, I say and walk from church,

refusing the stiff procession to the grave,

letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.

It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate

myself where the sun gutters from the sky,

where the sea swings in like an iron gate

and we touch. In another country people die.

My darling, the wind falls in like stones

from the whitehearted water and when we touch

we enter touch entirely. No one's alone.

Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what of the dead? They lie without shoes

in the stone boats. They are more like stone

than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse

to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.

Structure and Style of the Poem

Sexton's style is called a confessional poem. A confessional poem is a poem that speaks directly to the author's personal experience. The speaker in the poem is definitely Sexton herself. In this light, it's natural to look to her life's events to make more sense of her point-of-view. Sexton had already attempted suicide at the time this poem was written. Years later she would succeed. Sexton had been treated for depression for years. Many critics believe Sexton lived to age 46 because she discovered poetry.

The poem follows a rhyming pattern. In each stanza the last word of the first and third line rhyme. The second and fourth lines also end in rhyme. The strong structure of the poem is a way for Sexton to organize and make sense of her vast, seemingly uncontrollable emotions.

Analysis of the Poem

Sexton's poem is called an elegy. An elegiac poem is one that is dedicated to someone who has died. Sexton dedicates her poem to her mother and father, who died within three months of each other.

In Sexton's first stanza, which is a section of poetic lines, Sexton admits that she is tired of 'being brave.' As she describes her father's funeral and 'the stiff procession to the grave,' Sexton lets her reader know that traditional religious mourning will not ease Sexton's pain.

By the second stanza, Sexton describes going to Cape Cod, Massachusetts, to bury her father. She mentions earlier that it is June. Traditionally, summer at the beach suggests happiness, carefree days, though Sexton is pairing this setting with the death of her parents. She uses paradoxical imagery to show how disconnected she feels from the beautiful seaside town. A paradox is when two contrasting ideas are put together. For example, Sexton writes 'the sun gutters from the sky.' Generally speaking, gutters collect rain. To associate the sun with gutters makes the sun less cheerful, more moody and sad like rain.

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