17 pages 34 minutes read

Anne Sexton


Fiction | Poem | Adult | Published in 1962

A modern alternative to SparkNotes and CliffsNotes, SuperSummary offers high-quality Study Guides with detailed chapter summaries and analysis of major themes, characters, and more.

Summary and Study Guide


“Young” is a lyric poem written by American poet Anne Sexton from her second poetry collection All My Pretty Ones (1962). Sexton is associated with the Confessional style of poetry, also attributed to Robert Lowell and Sylvia Plath, among others. Prominent themes of her work include her most intimate thoughts regarding extramarital affairs, mental health, suicide, and depression. Some critics have remarked on her excessive use of personal narrative, including US Poet Laureate James Dickey in The New York Times Book Review of All My Pretty Ones, which devastated Sexton and prompted her to carry the review around in her wallet. Fans, including later musical artists Madonna, Morrissey, and Peter Gabriel, would cite her various poems as inspiration.

Poet Biography

Anne Gray Harvey was born in Newton, Massachusetts in 1928 as the youngest of three daughters to affluent parents. Her grandfather Arthur Gray Staples was the founder of the Lewiston Evening Journal. In her teenage years, she attended public school and then an all-girl boarding school in Lowell before enrolling in the Garland School, a finishing school for only one year. In 1948, she eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II (“Kayo”), a marriage that lasted 25 years and produced two daughters, including Linda, who later edited posthumous editions of her mother’s poems and wrote a memoir about her time growing up with a mother who had alcoholism and bipolar disorder.

In her late 20s, Sexton’s bipolar disorder brought her into contact with Dr. Martin Orne, her long-term therapist who fostered her poetry writing, which she had not done since she was a teenager. She then started to take poetry workshops, her first one with poet and critic John Holmes. Even though she was nervous at first about taking the class, she was able to get her early poems published rather quickly in The New Yorker and Harper’s Magazine. She also met writer Maxine Kumin with whom she formed a mutual working relationship and collaborated on four children’s books. Later, Sexton took a workshop that Robert Lowell taught at Boston University, where she befriended other Confessional poets, including Sylvia Plath.

Not just other writers, like Kumin and W. D. Snodgrass, but visual artists and musicians inspired her writing. In the late 1960s, she formed a jazz-rock band called Her Kind, which intermingled music with her poetry, and she wrote the play Mercy Street, which starred Tony-winning actress Marian Seldes.

Also in the 1960s, Sexton began to publish collections of her poetry, the first titled To Bedlam and Part Way Back in 1960 and Live or Die in 1966, which won the Pulitzer Prize. After winning the prize, Sexton increased her celebrity status, which led to increased speaking engagements and teaching opportunities.

In 1964, at age 45, Sexton died by suicide after having lunch with Kumin, who was helping her to revise her forthcoming collection of poems titled The Awful Rowing Toward God.

Poem Text

Sexton, Anne. “Young.” 2008. American Poems.


In this one-stanza, first-person poem, the speaker “I” reflects on a past summer night as “a lonely kid” (Line 2). The speaker remembers lying amidst the clover, listening to the crickets, and watching the stars and her family’s house, particularly the activities in her parents’ windows and the boards of the house covered with leaves. The speaker acknowledges her body, “which [is] not a woman’s yet” (Line 19), and she asks questions of the stars she watches. In this moment, she wonders if God might be watching over her and seeing everything she sees.