“The Starry Night” (2. analysis)🌃

MoMA 1

“The Starry Night”, inspired by Vincent van Gogh’s painting of the same title, is a short, free-verse poem by Anne Sexton where she identifies with another tortured and suicidal artist and makes comparisons between her own life and the masterpiece she is talking about.
It begins with a quote from one of Van Gogh’s letters to his brother, in which he says that, despite himself, he has a deep, “terrible” need for religion, and when he feels this need, he has to go out and “paint the stars”.
Though Van Gogh didn’t want religion in his life, he nevertheless needed the sacred and it was through the creation of art (when he went out at night to paint the stars) that he was trying to understand the holiness of beauty and to make it eternal

The town does not exist
except where one black haired tree slips
up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.
The town is silent. The night boils with eleven stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die.

A dark melancholy and turbulent mood is created by Van Gogh in his picture, which conveys a sense of alienation, confusion and loneliness.
This oil painting includes a dark tree in the foreground, standing tall in its loneliness and defiance, and in the middle ground a distant quiet town, almost asleep. Sexton says “the town does not exist” because it does not catch the eye immediately, it could be overlooked easily because in proportion to the sky and the large dark tree, it is quite small.
In the background there is the sky, loud with its burning yellow-white “eleven stars” contrasting against the thick spinning night in blues and blacks, with a swirl of violent orange representing the moon, in the top right corner.
The night “boils” in the poet’s description and the painting creates a sense of turmoil with its great rush skyward, and the sleeping town beneath the sky, unconscious of this spiralling of all nature toward infinity.

Sexton considers this painting as a reflection of her own death wish. The dark tree at the edge of the painting is described as “black-haired” and it “slips/ up like a drowned woman into the hot sky.”

To emphasize the dark admiration for the bravery depicted through the tree, to make her meaning clearer, she continues, “This is how/ I want to die.” This refrain is a sort of mantra repeated twice in the poem.

It moves. They are all alive.
Even the moon bulges in its orange irons
to push children, like a god, from its eye.
The old unseen serpent swallows up the stars.
Oh starry starry night! This is how
I want to die:

She does not fear the death foreshadowed by nature’s brute force, because it represents release from the burden of life. She also sees the moon as a great dragon that will suck her up into its being. And she desires to fuse silently and painlessly with the infinite, she wants to be a part of mythology, in a world where the “old, unseen serpent swallows up the stars”. and the moon pushes children “like a god, from its eye”.

into the rushing beast of the night,
sucked up by that great dragon, to split
from my life with no flag,
no belly,
no cry.

She wants to die in a glorified way, as a tortured poet, and to part with life with: “no flag, / no belly, / no cry”.
“No flag” may suggest that she does not want to die for any particular cause
“No belly” may be linked to her femininity and she may be expressing the desire to die without producing more human beings.
“No cry”, the final words mean she does not want to die a victim, but willingly, bravely, and on her own terms.

24 thoughts on ““The Starry Night” (2. analysis)🌃

  1. I don’t know what you mean by his not wanting “religion in his life,” but I have read that Van Gogh wanted to be a missionary and was rejected by the Church. “Religion” is one thing, a relationship with Jesus is quite another. It saddens me to think of his being rejected by the Church, and I pray he didn’t take it as a rejection by God Himself. If that was the case, it’s no wonder he suffered so much from depression. (#beenthere)

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