This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of both poems will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge.
Today I offer you two poems on desperation, depression and death. Noon Walk On The Asylum Lawn by Anne Sexton and No Safe Place, by Luccia Gray.
Noon Walk On The Asylum Lawn – Poem by Anne Sexton
The summer sun ray
shifts through a suspicious tree.
though I walk through the valley of the shadow
It sucks the air
and looks around for me.
The grass speaks.
I hear green chanting all day.
I will fear no evil, fear no evil
The blades extend
and reach my way.
The sky breaks.
It sags and breathes upon my face.
In the presence of mine enemies, mine enemies
The world is full of enemies.
There is no safe place.
From to Bedlam and partway back by Anne Sexton published in 1960. It was the first book of poetry she published.
The poet is o the lawn at the asylum. She’s looking for comfort in doctors, in medicine, in nature, and in religion, but there’s no hope. None of them can help her leave the land of shadows in which she’s immersed. She cannot see the light.
Emotionally the poet is in the valley of the shadow of death, and ‘it’, death, is chasing her, by using everything in his power to do so. The trees take up the air choking her, the chant of the grass which becomes long blades, likes knives attacking her, the clouds, causing the shadows, are also her enemy.
This poem is a description of her lonely and desperate emotional situation. It’s all the more desperate because it’s not even a cry for help. She knows there will be no escape, because there is no safe place.
In this sense, it’s also an existentialist reflection on the human condition. We are all born, live, and die; all three events are inevitable, and in between we’re not even happy. As Camus’ tells us the reason for Caligula’s unhappiness: “Men die and they are not happy.
If this poem were a painting, it would be Munch’s The Scream.
Her situation is hopeless. Everything and everyone is against her. She can’t escape. No one and nothing can save her.
But the poem is even more devastating, because it is not only a personal reflection, we have all been there, and we all go back there on occasions, until death finally wins the battle, because there is no escape from death. It will creep up on us all.
Lines 3, 8, and 13 are taken from Psalm 23, which is famous for being most commonly used at funerals or to comfort those approaching death. The message is that believers should not fear death because God’s presence and strength will guide them to the next world.
I’ve also found these fabulous videos on you tube of Anne reading her own poems. Check them out.
Now for my own poem.
This is one of the hardest poems I’ve written this month. I’ve had my low moments of depression, and who hasn’t after almost six decades of life? Nevertheless I try to be an optimistic person, who encourages students, colleagues, friends, family and anyone who’s listening or reading!
The poem about my sister’s death, for example, There’s Still Joy, was hard, and yet I didn’t feel desperate or depressed when I’d written it. In fact I felt relief in writing the poem.
As T. S, Eliot said, ‘The purpose of literature is to turn blood into ink.’ In that case, it should have had a therapeutic and liberating effect, shouldn’t it? That was initially Anne Sexton’s aim in writing poetry, as therapy, and yet, her poem has no hope, just a description of desperation.
Anne Sexton’s poem has pushed me way out of my comfort zone today.
Here’s my own desperate plea.
No Safe Place (After Anne Sexton) by Luccia Gray
The shadow stalks me,
Seeping through the trees.
The leaves, they whisper,
‘We’ve come to take her.’
‘Fear no evil,’ they repeat,
But I can hear the devil’s feet.
The grass is screaming,
The clouds are crashing,
The Lord is waiting.
I’m at their mercy.
They’ve called back my enemy.
It’s time now, he’s come for me.
He’s breathing in my face.
There is no safe place.
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