Her Kind Summary
Think of this poem as a walk down memory lane – a rather dark, twisted, and not-so-pleasant memory lane. The speaker of this poem is remembering all the things that she has been in the past: a lonely witch, a clutter-obsessed cave dweller, and the victim of persecution. See? We told you that her path wasn't all sunshine and roses.
As she makes her way through all the things that she has been, however, we begin to figure out just why her life hasn't been as "normal" as it might have been. See, we only know a very few things about our speaker – but one of them is that she's a woman. And as we learn about her situation, we can only assume that her path has been determined, at least in part, by that fact.
Our speaker's not angry about the fact that she's a woman, however. In fact, it becomes the basis of her solidarity with all those folks out there who are outside the fold. As she reminds us (many, many times), she's one of their kind.
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.
I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
- OK, so our speaker could be continuing to unfold the secrets of her witchy world in this stanza…or she could just be the crazy lady down the street who happens to collect lots and lots of junk.
- After all, we've got a pretty extensive rundown of random stuff in these lines. She's got everything from "skillets" to "silks" and, well, just about everything in between.
- It's almost like our speaker is creating her very own world – one that's completely removed from the view of the rest of society.
- If we bought into psychoanalysis, we might point out that any time someone starts to talk about "warm caves," it starts to sound a lot like a woman's womb. After all, they're both warm, hidden spaces which can nurture and be filled with…all sorts of things. Or "innumerable goods," as the case may be.
- Once again, the lists that fill up the lines of this stanza are pretty non-descriptive. Sure, we know that she's stashing skillets in her cave – but what do they look like? Since she doesn't really tell us, we're guessing that the actual things themselves aren't really all that important to her…what matters is just the fact that she's able to build a separate space.
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
- This line leaves our speaker somewhere between a fairy and a groundskeeper…after all, outside of mobster movies, worm-food isn't exactly a hot topic these days.
- It's interesting, though, that our speaker chooses to care for things – they just happen to be pretty strange things. After all, she's not cooking supper for the husband and kids. Or even other people. She's chosen allegiances that are far, far outside of the human realm.
- The juxtaposition of a pretty prosaic action (making supper) and a rather strange grouping of subjects (worms and elves) might just cause a tiny mental hiccup for most readers. It sure made us stop and think! We're guessing that Sexton wants us to feel how strange her speaker's chosen supper companions are.
- Funnily enough, there's something pretty sweeping her choice of company. If you were to create a hierarchy of beings, worms would probably be pretty close to the bottom, right? After all, they're only a few classes away from amoeba. And elves? Well, they're right up there with unicorns and fairies. (And if they all look like Orlando Bloom, we're guessing that they're pretty pleasant to be around.) It's almost as if our speaker is expressing her willingness to include everyone at her table.
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
- ...and then we get to the less-than-appealing part of her life.
- We hate to point it out, but we're noticing a pattern here. Just like in stanza one, the first few lines of this stanza imagine the world of a woman who chooses not to participate in "normal" life. And, just like in stanza one, the views of society eventually make their way into our picture of her. And believe us, they're not pretty.
- "Whiny" and meddlesome, this woman is no walk in the park. Then again, maybe that's because society chooses to misunderstand her – and her views. After all, the easiest way to dismiss someone is to call them silly…or meddlesome…or "whiny."
I have been her kind.
- Wait a second…haven't we heard this line before? Oh, right. It was the last line of the first stanza, as well. In fancy Shmoop language, we'd call this line a "refrain." (We don't want to spoil things, but it turns out that it's the end of the last stanza as well.) It's the last line of all the stanzas.
- Why's it so important? Well, for one thing, it makes it clear that the woman we read about in stanza one is actually not the same woman as the one we meet in stanza two. They're of a "kind" – that is, they're all similar. But they live different lives.
- Here's the funny thing about this refrain – it's the seventh line of the stanza. Which is, well, a little weird. Regular stanzas tend to have even numbers of lines (like four, or eight, or twelve). Even numbers of lines mean that things get rounded out, rhymes are evenly distributed, and the poem seems to set a smooth, even pace. Here, though, things are out of joint. Because the last word of this stanza, "kind," rhymes with line five ("disaligned,") there's an odd line out. Line 13 doesn't rhyme with anything.
- Want to hear more about the strangeness of this form? Check out what we have to say in "Rhyme, Form, and Meter." For now, though, we'll just point out that it's a little odd. A little weird. Sort of like witches. Or ladies who cook meals for worms.
I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
- We're back with another "I" – this time one which addresses itself directly to a man who's choosing to help drive her to…well, we can't tell you that yet. That would be cheating. But here's a hint: it's not that pretty. Remember what they did to witches in the Olden Days? Think about Joan of Arc. Or the Salem witch trials. And most of those "trials" ended with a witch being carted to the stake.
- Instead of hiding herself, however, our speaker seems almost ostentatious: unafraid, she waves her "nude arms" to the watching crowds.
- There's something simultaneously fragile and fierce about this gesture. Sure, naked arms could be a sign of human frailty. But our speaker also seems to be thumbing her nose at the "villages going by." She's not afraid. In fact, she's greeting the very world that's about to condemn her.
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
- Line seventeen offers an oh-so-beautiful example of enjambment. Want to know more about it? Check out what we have to say in "Symbols, Imagery, and Wordplay" for our thoughts on the matter.
- For now, though, let's just say that her declaration is about as forceful as the Destiny's Child song of the same name. Like the song (or, er, the poem) says, she's a survivor. She's gonna make it. And it doesn't matter so much whether she's burned at the stake or tortured in the inquisition. Death won't take away her sense of self.
- …but maybe we should talk about the dangers she seems to be facing. Believe us, they aren't pretty.
- Witches, you see, have never been well-liked by the rest of the world. In fact, there's a long and well-established tradition known as the "witch hunt." You guessed it – that's when folks band together, decide some woman has done things that just aren't quite acceptable, and then find some way to publicly kill her. Maybe they burned her at the stake. Maybe they tortured her until she declared that she was a witch. And then they burned her at the stake. Maybe they just dumped her in a big pond and waited to see if she'd survive. (After all, as we all know, only witches can swim. At least, that's what the folks in Salem, Massachusetts thought.)
- If you ever learned anything about witch trials in middle school, though, you probably learned that the trials were usually about social regulation. Don't like how someone talks? She's a witch. Don't like what someone's wearing? She's a witch. Don't like that she's hanging out with a boy you like? You get the picture.
- Here's the strange thing about these lines: they suddenly shift into the present tense. Our speaker is still feeling the crack of her bones, the heat of the fire. It's almost as if she's suggesting that there might just be other forms of social interaction which are, well, tortuous. Or at least very painful. And they seem to be ongoing.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
- Once again, our speaker returns to her refrain, expressing her sense of identification with a misaligned woman. She's outright defiant here: sure, she may be put to the death. But she's not about to back down from her beliefs or her sense of self.
- Here's where we return to Sexton's own biography, as well. Frequently mentally ill and occasionally suicidal, Sexton is straight-up honest about the reasons why death might not be such a bad option, given the state of the society she lived in.
- We're not saying that suicide is a good thing – or even that Sexton was happy that she tried it. In this poem, however, she's trying to explain why a woman might feel so persecuted that she'd find it easy to identify with women who died because of society's screwed up conventions.
- (After all, a woman's life in the '50s and '60s wasn't exactly a walk in the park. If you've ever watched Mad Men, you know that even Betty Draper goes crazy. The life of a '50s housewife wasn't all that it was cracked up to be.)
- Expressing solidarity with women who buck that conventional lifestyle can be an act of daring. At least, that's what our speaker seems to think.