Anne Sexton and Judaism

While Sexton wasn’t exactly a full-on philosemite, she did find her friend and collaborator Maxine Kumin’s chosenness fascinating.  Below is a poem that Anne wrote to Maxine in which she relates some of her envy:

My Friend, My Friend

Who will forgive me for the things I do?

With no special legend of God to refer to,

With my calm white pedigree, my yankee kin,

I think it would be better to be a Jew.

I forgive you for what you did not do.

I am impossibly quilty. Unlike you,

My Friend, I can not blame my origin

With no special legend or God to refer to.

They wear The Crucifix as they are meant to do.

Why do their little crosses trouble you?

The effigies that I have made are genuine,

(I think it would be better to be a Jew).

Watching my mother slowly die I knew

My first release. I wish some ancient bugaboo

Followed me. But my sin is always my sin.

With no special legend or God to refer to.

Who will forgive me for the things I do?

To have your reasonable hurt to belong to

Might ease my trouble like liquor or aspirin.

I think it would be better to be a Jew.

And if I lie, I lie because I love you,

Because I am bothered by the things I do,

Because your hurt invades my calm white skin:

With no special legend or God to refer to,

I think it would be better to be a Jew.

Kumin wrote a rather long response, difficult to find online (though I managed to do so) that some day I will post here.  Interesting to note that Sexton friend and depressive rival Sylvia Plath, who has gotten tons of print attention this week because of the anniversary of the publication of The Bell Jar, was also somewhat obsessed with Jewishness (references to Nazism are peppered throughout Ariel) but I would argue in a different way than Sexton was.  Sexton saw Kumin’s status as a Jew a kind of get-out-of-jail-free card in that Kumin could appeal to the special G-d that chose her when things went awry; Plath believed that by developing her own masochistic war on herself, not devoid of glory, was a type of personal appropriation of the relationship between Jews and Nazis.  In other words, she waged her own mini-Holocaust on herself, playing the role of brutal SS agent and of helpless Jewish victim.

HAPPY TUESDAYS!

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