'Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward' by Anne Sexton
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To Bedlam And Part Way BackChild, the current of your breath is six days long.
You lie, a small knuckle on my white bed;
lie, fisted like a snail, so small and strong
at my breast. Your lips are animals; you are fed
with love. At first hunger is not wrong.
The nurses nod their caps; you are shepherded
down starch halls with the other unnested throng
in wheeling baskets. You tip like a cup; your head
moving to my touch. You sense the way we belong.
But this is an institution bed.
You will not know me very long.The doctors are enamel. They want to know
the facts. They guess about the man who left me,
some pendulum soul, going the way men go
and leave you full of child. But our case history
stays blank. All I did was let you grow.
Now we are here for all the ward to see.
They thought I was strange, although
I never spoke a word. I burst empty of you,
letting you see how the air is so.
The doctors chart the riddle they ask of me
and I turn my head away. I do not know.Yours is the only face I recognize.
Bone at my bone, you drink my answers in.
Six times a day I prize
your need, the animals of your lips, your skin
growing warm and plump. I see your eyes
lifting their tents. They are blue stones, they begin
to outgrow their moss. You blink in surprise
and I wonder what you can see, my funny kin,
as you trouble my silence. I am a shelter of lies.
Should I learn to speak again, or hopeless in
such sanity will I touch some face I recognize?Down the hall the baskets start back. My arms
fit you like a sleeve, they hold
catkins of your willows, the wild bee farms
of your nerves, each muscle and fold
of your first days. Your old man's face disarms
the nurses. But the doctors return to scold
me. I speak. It is you my silence harms.
I should have known; I should have told
them something to write down. My voice alarms
my throat. "Name of father-none." I hold
you and name you bastard in my arms.And now that's that. There is nothing more
that I can say or lose.
Others have traded life before
and could not speak. I tighten to refuse
your owling eyes, my fragile visitor.
I touch your cheeks, like flowers. You bruise
against me. We unlearn. I am a shore
rocking off you. You break from me. I choose
your only way, my small inheritor
and hand you off, trembling the selves we lose.
Go child, who is my sin and nothing more.
Editor 1 Interpretation
Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward: A Poetic Masterpiece by Anne Sexton
Anne Sexton's Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward is a deeply moving and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of birth, death, and the mysteries of life. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Sexton creates a haunting portrait of a newborn baby in a hospital nursery, surrounded by the sounds and smells of life and death.
The Poem: An Overview
The poem opens with the speaker describing the scene in a maternity ward, where she sees a newborn baby lying in a crib, surrounded by other newborns. The speaker is struck by the sight of the baby, who is unknown and unnamed, yet so full of life and promise.
As the poem progresses, the speaker reflects on the fragility of life, and the fact that this newborn baby, like all of us, is destined to die someday. She also muses on the mysteries of life, and the fact that we can never truly understand the complexities of the universe.
The poem ends with the speaker imagining the baby growing up and living a full life, but also acknowledging that this may not be the case. She ends with the haunting line, "What is my life to yours? / Compared to you / who are death / and life / heavens and hells".
The Poem: A Literary Analysis
One of the most striking features of Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward is the vivid imagery that Sexton employs to describe the scene in the hospital nursery. She uses sensory language to convey the sounds, smells, and sights of the newborns, and to create a sense of immediacy and intimacy with the reader.
For example, she describes the "softness of the babies' mouths", the "tightness of their small hands", and the "sweet warmth" of their bodies. These details not only create a vivid picture of the scene, but also serve to highlight the fragility of life, and the fact that these babies are so vulnerable and helpless.
Another key aspect of the poem is the way in which Sexton uses language to explore the themes of birth and death. She juxtaposes images of life and death throughout the poem, using words like "breath" and "womb" alongside words like "coffin" and "grave".
This creates a sense of tension and unease, as the reader is reminded of the ultimate fate that awaits us all. However, Sexton also suggests that there is something magical and mysterious about the process of birth and death, something that we can never fully understand.
This is reflected in the poem's closing lines, where the speaker acknowledges that the baby's life may not turn out as she hopes, but also suggests that there is something divine and transcendent about the unknown girl's existence.
The Poem: A Personal Interpretation
As a reader, I found Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward to be a deeply moving and thought-provoking poem. It reminded me of the fragility of life, and the fact that we are all just passing through this world for a brief moment in time.
At the same time, it also reminded me of the beauty and mystery of life, and the fact that there is something profound and miraculous about the fact that we are all here, living and breathing and experiencing the world around us.
I also found the poem to be a powerful meditation on the relationship between life and death, and the fact that these two forces are always intertwined. Even as we live and breathe, we are constantly moving closer to the moment of our death, and there is no escaping this fact.
However, Sexton also suggests that there is something transcendent and divine about the process of birth and death, something that we can never fully understand or comprehend. This is reflected in the closing lines of the poem, where the speaker acknowledges the unknown girl's "heavens and hells", and the fact that her life, like all of our lives, is a mystery that we can never fully unravel.
In conclusion, Anne Sexton's Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward is a poetic masterpiece that explores the themes of birth, death, and the mysteries of life. Through vivid imagery and powerful language, Sexton creates a haunting portrait of a newborn baby in a hospital nursery, surrounded by the sounds and smells of life and death.
As a reader, I found the poem to be a deeply moving and thought-provoking meditation on the fragility and beauty of life, as well as the relationship between life and death. It is a testament to Sexton's skill as a poet that she is able to convey such complex and profound ideas in such a concise and lyrical manner.
Overall, Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward is a must-read for anyone interested in poetry, or in the mysteries of life and death. It is a work of art that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it, and will continue to provoke and inspire you for years to come.
Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation
Anne Sexton’s “Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward” is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores themes of motherhood, identity, and the human experience. The poem is a vivid and emotional portrayal of a woman who has just given birth, and the complex emotions that she experiences in the aftermath of this life-changing event.
The poem begins with the speaker describing the scene in the maternity ward, where she sees a woman who has just given birth to a baby girl. The woman is described as “unknown” because the speaker does not know her personally, but she is still deeply affected by her presence. The speaker is struck by the woman’s vulnerability and the intensity of her emotions, which are conveyed through her body language and facial expressions.
The poem then shifts to the speaker’s own thoughts and feelings about motherhood. She reflects on the fact that she herself is a mother, and that she has experienced the same intense emotions that the unknown woman is now experiencing. She describes the physical and emotional pain of childbirth, and the overwhelming sense of responsibility that comes with being a mother.
Throughout the poem, the speaker grapples with the question of identity. She wonders who she is now that she is a mother, and how her identity has changed since giving birth. She reflects on the fact that motherhood has transformed her in ways that she never could have imagined, and that she is now a different person than she was before.
One of the most striking aspects of the poem is its use of imagery. Sexton uses vivid and evocative language to paint a picture of the maternity ward and the emotions that the speaker is experiencing. For example, she describes the woman’s face as “a map of the world / a continent that has not been discovered yet,” conveying the sense of mystery and wonder that surrounds the birth of a new life.
Sexton also uses repetition and parallelism to create a sense of rhythm and momentum in the poem. For example, she repeats the phrase “I have” several times throughout the poem, each time adding a new layer of meaning and complexity to the speaker’s thoughts and feelings.
Overall, “Unknown Girl In A Maternity Ward” is a powerful and moving poem that explores the complexities of motherhood and the human experience. Sexton’s use of imagery, repetition, and parallelism creates a sense of depth and richness that draws the reader in and invites them to reflect on their own experiences of motherhood and identity. This is a poem that will stay with you long after you have finished reading it, and it is a testament to Sexton’s skill as a poet and her ability to capture the essence of the human experience in all its complexity and beauty.
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