Her Kind, Anne Sexton – an analysis


Something persecution-y this way comes?

Gut Reaction
Hmm. I like it. It’s… a bit of a mystery, but I like it. I’ve been her kind – I’ve walked in her shoes, I’ve suffered her persecution?

What does it all mean?
I have gone out, a possessed witch,
haunting the black air, braver at night;
dreaming evil, I have done my hitch
over the plain houses, light by light:
lonely thing, twelve-fingered, out of mind.
A woman like that is not a woman, quite.
I have been her kind.

This reads like a person looking back on the events of her life. Maybe she was a witch, however it’s more likely this is a metaphor for a darker time in her life, a darker version of herself. She did things that perhaps were bad but made her feel or be powerful, yet she still felt the weight of being an outsider. She did things in the security of the darkness of night? Then we have her hitching over plain houses, light by light – she’s viewing them all as the same and isolates herself as different, as not having these things. The light contrasts the dark of night perhaps. She’s lonely. She refers to having twelve fingers – literal polydactyly which isolates her for her difference, or metaphorical? This would agree with her being lonely, ostracised, out of mind – easily forgotten? She’s not quite a woman – is there something about her that isn’t womanly? Perhaps though she’s not a woman because she’s not yet a woman or a young woman, finding her way in the world. What is it that makes her different? Is it her strength? Her appearance? Her mannerisms? Whatever things she is referring to, she has known them, personally.

I have found the warm caves in the woods,
filled them with skillets, carvings, shelves,
closets, silks, innumerable goods;
fixed the suppers for the worms and the elves:
whining, rearranging the disaligned.
A woman like that is misunderstood.
I have been her kind.
In this stanza, she’s a home-maker. She might be feeding creatures rather than children, she’s living in a cave full of unusual items, but she’s still building and nurturing. The skillet speaks of cooking meals rather than brewing spells, so there’s a step away from the witch practice too. She’s been restless: whining, rearranging the disaligned, which reminds me of my mother getting the urge to move furniture around at 3 in the morning when she couldn’t sleep. She says this woman is misunderstood. For what? Her choices to be a homemaker? Her life generally? Is the person still a witch by this stanza, or is this another ‘stage’ in her life. Whatever the circumstance truly is, she empathises.

I have ridden in your cart, driver,
waved my nude arms at villages going by,
learning the last bright routes, survivor
where your flames still bite my thigh
and my ribs crack where your wheels wind.
A woman like that is not ashamed to die.
I have been her kind.
Alright, the sexy stanza. Ridden, driver, nude arms, flames still bite my thigh, ribs crack where your wheels wind – all point to a sexual encounter.If she’s waving her arms at villages going by, is she a scorned adulterer? She’s had the pleasure of passion and now everyone knows her secret: she doesn’t care She’s not ashamed, not of living, or dying it seems. Again, the author fully empathises, having been in this person’s shoes.

Form – the vaguely technical stuff
Division and order
3 stanzas of equal length.

It’s emphatic and for me there’s a tinge of gloating or indifference – I’ve seen and done all of these things myself, no big deal. Or perhaps it’s just survivalism: whatever you’ve been through, you’ve lived through. You’re still here.

Suggested rhyme scheme

Similes and metaphors
The witch is a metaphor for something. Has she lived so different a life to ‘normal’ woman? Was she a ‘woman of the night’ as referred to in her bravery at night? Or not – everyone is braver when their face isn’t seen, when they’re wearing a mask.
All of the strange items listed in stanza two could just be substitutes for the things you’d find in a regular house. We’ve already got the skillet so we know there are meals being prepared. The worms and elves. Pets and children perhaps?

Author’s relationship with their subject
Again, reading it over and over there’s just a tinge of ‘been there, done that’. There’s pride, almost like the author is taking on the rule of educator. She’s already lived through all of these experiences so can’t be taught herself.

Other points of view (ideas from other sources)
This is the story of a woman looking back on her life at the roles she has played.

Signing off
The unnatural elements of this poem talk of a woman that’s lived her life as an outsider. The content shows a life cycle, from the perhaps frivolous and brave youth, to the ‘housewife’, to the adulterer. What I wonder about is the role she’s playing now, as author, looking back on all of these things. Is she happy? Has she found her way in the world or found to be content with what she is and has? Is she writing as though it is an advice column, saying to other women out there at various stages in their lives that she’s lived through them all and is proof you can come out the other side of it? She is sagely saying ‘I’ve been there, it’s okay’.

I like the reassurance of this poem. I like that the author uses somewhat unusual themes to tell a typical tale, and I love the idea of the witch as the youthful woman, because hey, weren’t most of us a bit witchy when we were first stepping out into the world? Also there’s the nod to women about power and strength – witches or those accused of being witches were persecuted and punished – but they were so because they were feared (or you know. Vindictive neighbours. It’s all about the power).

I like the idea that even if you do ‘wrong’, you still learn from it, and it doesn’t have to be The End Of All Things, as it often feels when you’re in the situation at that time.

Mostly, I like the connection of Her Kind. We’ve all felt ostracised, or wrong, or that we don’t fit in at some point in our lives, and this poem kind says hey, that’s okay, we’ve all been there. And you know what, we’re better for it. So keep on. Keep going. Chin up 🙂


Poetry Foundation


When I read this I think of the song… All Babes Are Wolves


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