by Anne Sexton
Bubble, Bubble, Toil and Trouble….
Witches haven't exactly played the heroines in recent history. Or, well, ever. (OK, aside from in Wicked.) Pretty much since Shakespeare created three hags plotting evil and hexing the future, witches have played starring roles in all sorts of bad, power-hungry, creepily terrifying plots. With all that power, though, comes some pretty nasty consequences – remember the house dropping on the Wicked Witch of the East? Or the good ol' spear-to-the-gut that the Sheriff of Nottingham's witch takes in Robin Hood Prince of Thieves? Anne Sexton is deliberately drawing from the oh-so-rich history of witches, magic, and power when she chooses to describe evoke the rich imagery of witchcraft. Witches are powerful. They can be scary. And they're persecuted. Sound like anyone else we know?
- Line 1: Allowing the speaker to describe herself as a "possessed witch" sets the tone for the imagery which will control the first stanza.
- Line 2: Oh, boy, are the images stacking up: "haunting" the "black air"? That's totally witch's work!
- Line 3: You've got to be kidding…an image a line? Well, yes, folks, that's what we're saying. After all, "dreaming evil" is one of those things that witches do…isn't it?
- Line 5: We've got three little words for you: imagery, imagery, imagery. A "lonely thing, twelve-fingered"? We don't know about you, but when we hear words like that, we start imagining broomsticks in the air.
- Line 7: By the time that our speaker gets to the last line of the first stanza, the imagery we're reeaaaallllly familiar with starts to get a bit interesting. See, by claiming to "have been her kind," our speaker takes a step back from the woman she's been describing. The witch is not just an image any longer: she's a metaphor for every woman who happens to share her feelings and position in life. And heck, since the metaphor lasts for pretty much the entire poem, we feel pretty safe calling it a conceit – that's a fancy term for an extended metaphor.
- Line 11: We've got to admit, Sexton knows how to paint a captivating picture. The image of our speaker fixing "suppers for the worms and the elves" seems like the sort of thing we'd see on the front of children's storybooks.
- Lines 15-19: The last stanza plays through the conceit of woman-as-witch by exploring the downright nasty fate that witches have faced in the past. Sexton throws in allusions to burnings at the stake (a fairly common practice way back when) and the inquisitions convened by the Roman Catholic Church, which adds a good dose of eerie reality to the mix.