by Anne Sexton
Stanza 1 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
- Notice the first word of this poem? For those of you who missed it, it's "I." If you hear anyone calling Anne Sexton a "confessional poet," well, this is what they're talking about. The speaker doesn't leave anyone in doubt about who's experiencing what she's about to describe. And believe us, she's had some wild experiences!
- Is Sexton really a witch? Well, that's not for us to say. But check out the way that she describes the state of witchiness: it's a possessed form of being – what matters isn't necessarily what she does, it's how and when she does it.
- Remember that time last Thanksgiving when all you wanted to do was get away from everyone and drive for hours? Or how, after something really bad happened, the only thing you wanted to do was keep moving? That's the sort of "possession" our speaker is talking about here. She's on the move – but it's a frantic sort of motion.
- This is a woman of the night, the kind that take long journeys abroad when everyone else is tucked safely into their beds.
- She doesn't tell us this, but we get the sense that her journey is a lonely one. After all, she's not exactly describing an episode of Charmed here. There are no sister witches in sight. Nope, she's all alone, doing the witch-y things that only witches do.
- Why doesn't she just call herself an unhappy person? Or even a possessed person? Well, that's a good question. For one thing, witches aren't exactly well understood. (Think about it: when was the last time you thought of witches as being warm and cuddly? Exactly.)
- Witches operate outside the bounds of "normal" society. If anything, people try to drop houses on their heads or melt them with buckets of water. It's not so pretty.
- More importantly, witches are seen as strange and powerful partly because they're women. They have uncanny abilities. Special powers.
- And they don't seem to be doing their witch-y deeds to help their men. Maybe that's why they've been ostracized and condemned for centuries. After all, patriarchy doesn't operate so well when there are people out there who refuse to recognize its power.
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
- …and now our witch is on the move. Her "hitch" is a fancy way of describing her flight over houses at night.
- But notice how she's only "dreaming" about the deeds that witches do? Could this mean that she's dreaming about her entire flight? Could this whole witch-thing be a desire?
- Interestingly, our speaker's language is almost as plain as the houses that she describes. There aren't any flowery turns of phrase or elaborate puns here to describe what she's doing. She's pretty straightforward about her nighttime wanderings.
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
- As it flying over houses weren't strange enough, our speaker follows her description of her nightlife up with a laundry list of all the things which set her physically and emotionally apart from the rest of her community. And all those things add up to something which is decidedly unwomanly.
- It's almost as if Sexton is bound and determined to make her readers see just how strange her speaker is. Don't believe it when we talk about the night flying? Well, just wait. There's more.
- But who decides what a "woman" is? Is our speaker responding to external pressures about what womanly action should be?
- Check out the way she seems to have distanced herself from the strong declarations which began this stanza: she's not saying "I am not a woman, quite." Nope. She's drawing back to think about categories of people – the sorts of women who don't quite fit society's mold. It's almost like she's drunk the Kool-Aid. Society tells her that she's not a woman. And she believes it.
I have been her kind.
- The last line of the first stanza turns everything that comes before it on its head. Notice how this line starts with a declaration of the speaker's self? But wait: there's something strange going on here.
- The "I" that we first meet in line one isn't the same "I" that we see in line seven...or is it? Our speaker seems to be putting some distance between the possessed, witch-like woman and herself – at least, enough distance to affirm that she's one of her "kind." It's not a huge separation, but it's enough space to make the witch-woman into an elaborate metaphor for what our speaker's experiencing.
- Maybe she is a possessed witch. Then again, maybe she's just experienced enough sideways glances and disapproving gossip to make her feel like a witch. After all, the weird blend of power and social disapproval that comes with witch-ness can be a pretty potent brew.
- Funnily enough, using the word "kind" allows Sexton to express both of these forms of identification: "kind" can mean "of the same race" (as in, a blood relation) or "of the same type" (as in, she's like a witch). It's either a description of actual relation or metaphorical relation.
- It's the slipperiness of "kind" which makes our speaker's declaration of allegiance so striking. We're not quite sure what it means…and we're guessing that that's the point.