Anne Sexton was yet another troubled poet in the world of creative writing in which much of her pain fueled her work. She suffered from postpartum depression after the births of her two daughters when she was only in her mid-twenties. After Sexton had two separate mental breakdowns and had attempted suicide on her birthday, she was admitted into a psychiatric hospital. Having known about her interest in poetry while she was in high school, her doctor urged her to start writing again. Despite a successful writing career that blossomed from her pain, Sexton unfortunately took her own life in 1974.
As I continue this blog series, specifically with my interpretations of melancholic poetry, I am beginning to realize how important it is that these pieces exist. Depression is an immensely difficult illness to put into words, as there is no visual wound. Poets like Plath and Sexton, who suffered for their poetry, have beautifully and dismally described what it feels like to be in a state of clinical depression. Though they tragically took their lives to be freed of their own struggles with depression, what they’ve left behind is a legacy for others who suffer the same illness to feel like they are not alone.
“The Fury of Rainstorms”
“The rain drums down like red ants,
each bouncing off my window.”
These first couple of lines are meant to establish a somber atmosphere and mood. I envision the speaker hidden beneath sheets on a bed or couch while the rain “drums” on their window. When you’re caught indoors as it pours outside, you usually don’t feel energetic; it’s more a feeling of sleepiness and sluggishness. Interestingly, Sexton describes the rain as red ants “bouncing off [her] window.” I don’t think the meaning is supposed to be in a literal sense, but rather more focused on the impact of the ants hitting the glass — something so small hitting something so hard. I feel like the red ant is symbolizing the speaker in a way, and the window is an obstacle or struggle of some kind in the speaker’s life.
“The ants are in great pain
and they cry out as they hit
as if their little legs were only
stitched on and their heads pasted.”
I think this stanza confirms my previous suspicion because a lot of attention is placed on the ants in this poem. Versus the detached and dreary tone of the previous two lines, this stanza offers us a lot more feeling. The speaker recognizes that they are in pain, though they see it as two entirely different forms of pain: one of the body and one of the mind, even though there is no visual evidence of these afflictions. The line, “As if their little legs were only stitched on and their heads pasted,” further adds to the image of disembodiment; a disconnect of body and mind. People affected by depression often experience this type of feeling.
“And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon”
Here, the speaker says that even in “the grave,” a person cannot escape their troubles despite death. Something as minimal as rain is able to beat down on them, being no different to the real troubles they bear. What’s interesting in this stanza is the word “humble.” Even though the speaker recognizes that they are beat down in life and that this will continue in the afterlife, they are accepting of it without dispute. Along with the previous stanza, this brings full circle the awareness of the speaker, yet there is no immediate action from them. This unveils the very futile tone in the poem.
“with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella.”
I believe the “awful lettering” suggests that the speaker is calling their tombstone tacky, indicating that their view on death itself is tacky in a way. The speaker also sympathizes with the body in the grave being without shelter from the rain, speaking to the ruthless beatings you receive even in death. In contrast to the very first two lines of this poem, where the speaker seems to be indoors, I feel that this is some kind of turning point in the speaker’s mind. Perhaps death would be far worse than the depression they currently feel, because at least in life they have shelter from the rain; from life’s troubles.
“Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.”
In Sexton’s closing stanza, I feel that the speaker brings themself back to the present moment, realizing that depression is “boring.” Perhaps they would much rather spend their time trying to do or feel something, such as “make some soup and light up a cave,” rather than wallow in self-pity. This stanza reminds me a lot of a technique that therapists teach their clients in order to re-focus themselves. I’m not sure what the proper name for it is, but it’s a grounding technique that forces you into the present moment by focusing on your current surroundings through the five senses.
Though primarily a melancholic piece, I do appreciate the fact that “The Fury of Rainstorms” ends on an optimistic note. Though, for many people suffering from depression, this hopefulness may be well outside their reach. However, I believe that poems like these — ones that reach out with relatability and end in hopefulness — could very well change the perspective of people experiencing this illness. I truly think that this was something Sexton wanted for others, even though she ultimately knew she couldn’t achieve it herself.
— Bree Scott, Asst. Blog Editor