Sylvia’s Death Poem by Anne Sexton Summary, Notes and Line by Line Explanation in English


“Sylvia’s Death” is a poem written by Anne Sexton. It is written by the poet to commemorate the death of her friend– the famous poet Sylvia Plath. 

About the Poet:

Anne Sexton (1928-1974) was a famous American poet. According to Wikipedia, she is “known for her highly personal, confessional verse”. Famous works of hers include “Her Kind”, “Live or Die”, and “Sylvia’s Death”. 


This is an elegiac poem that is autobiographical in nature. Written in free verse, it does not follow a rhyme scheme. 

Explanation of the Poem:

O Sylvia, Sylvia,

with a dead box of stones and spoons,

with two children, two meteors

wandering loose in a tiny playroom,

with your mouth into the sheet,

into the roofbeam, into the dumb prayer,

(Sylvia, Sylvia

where did you go

after you wrote me

from Devonshire

about raising potatoes

and keeping bees?)

what did you stand by,

just how did you lie down into?

Thief —

how did you crawl into,

crawl down alone

into the death I wanted so badly and for so long,

the death we said we both outgrew,

the one we wore on our skinny breasts,

the one we talked of so often each time

we downed three extra dry martinis in Boston,

the death that talked of analysts and cures,

the death that talked like brides with plots,

the death we drank to,

the motives and the quiet deed?

(In Boston

the dying

ride in cabs,

yes death again,

that ride home

with our boy.)

O Sylvia, I remember the sleepy drummer

who beat on our eyes with an old story,

how we wanted to let him come

like a sa-dist or a New York fairy

to do his job,

a necessity, a window in a wall or a crib,

and since that time he waited

under our heart, our cupboard,

and I see now that we store him up

year after year, old suicides

and I know at the news of your death

a terrible taste for it, like salt,

(And me,

me too.

And now, Sylvia,

you again

with death again,

that ride home

with our boy.)

And I say only

with my arms stretched out into that stone place,

what is your death

but an old belonging,

a mole that fell out

of one of your poems?

(O friend,

while the moon's bad,

and the king's gone,

and the queen's at her wit's end

the bar fly ought to sing!)

O tiny mother,

you too!

O funny duchess!

O blonde thing!

The poem begins with the poet directly addressing her friend, the poet Sylvia Plath by her first name. The tone is mournful as the poet is grief-stricken over the loss of her beloved friend. The poet’s tone is almost accusatory as she demands why Sylvia suddenly departed after she “wrote” to her only recently. She further accuses Sylvia of being a “thief” to have chosen the death she craved before the poet herself could also join. The following lines reveal how both the poets had almost romanticised death, serving as further insight into why Sylvia Plath took her own life. Then, the poet states how while the “news of your (Sylvia’s) death” was unpleasant like the taste of “salt”, it was still accepted by the poet as “an old belonging”. The poem ends with how the poet felt that despite the passing of Sylvia, she will always live on in her poems and remain a “funny duchess”. 


This is a mournful poem. Interspersed with dark tones, it brings out the overwhelming sorrow and grief the poet experienced upon hearing about the suicide of her dear friend.