Considering Suicide

Anne Sexton lists many wounds in her poem about life’s pain that I quoted here yesterday: She speaks of ‘When they called you crybaby, or poor, or fatty, or crazy, and made you into an alien…” She seemed to feel such unease about her life, an unease that did not stop until the day she ended it. Having gone over her manuscript for her next collection The Awful Rowing Toward God with her friend and fellow poet Maxine Kumin, she went out to her garaged car, started the engine and sat there until the carbon monoxide essentially overcame her by-then unconscious body.

I only mean to say make it clear today that whatever pain living may have caused and however much I praised that poem, I would never do what she did – as long as I was well look out at the sky and know I was looking at it; to gaza at the faces of my caregivers and know them for the benevolent angels that such people are….

As long as I could know myself to still be balancing the brimming chalice that is life I would not consider suicide.

Here’s the poem that for me outlines the best way to look at death. Mary Oliver wrote it, and for 20 years a framed copy of it has hung on a wall in my house. Give it a read and tell me you don’t find it beautiful, and comforting, and inspirational:

When Death Comes

When death comes
like the hungry bear in autumn;
when death comes and takes all the bright coins from his purse

to buy me, and snaps the purse shut;
when death comes
like the measle-pox;

when death comes
like an iceberg between the shoulder blades,

I want to step through the door full of curiosity, wondering:
what is it going to be like, that cottage of darkness?

And therefore I look upon everything
as a brotherhood and a sisterhood,
and I look upon time as no more than an idea,
and I consider eternity as another possibility,

and I think of each life as a flower, as common
as a field daisy, and as singular,

and each name a comfortable music in the mouth,
tending, as all music does, toward silence,

and each body a lion of courage, and something
precious to the earth.

When it’s over, I want to say: all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder
if I have made of my life something particular, and real.
I don’t want to find myself sighing and frightened,
or full of argument.

I don’t want to end up simply having visited this world.


7 thoughts on “Considering Suicide

  1. It frightened me when I first discovered Anne Sexton. She was still alive but her poetry screamed of death. I was young and didn’t quite understand what could have created this. I am older now and understand more, but I too will “not go gently into that good night.”

  2. Mary Oliver! I adore her poetry. Terry, something makes me think you may have met her. I would love to see, hear, talk with her in person. Isn’t she in Provincetown? Do you know if she travels or gives teadings anymore?

    Thank you again, Terry, for a sweet spot in my day.

  3. I don’t think I will ever understand suicide.
    Mary Oliver: poet, lover of life, fascinated by every nuance surrounding her. So much more to see, to learn, to love, was her’s for the taking. Her poem speaks of this. Why would she leave questions unanswered, sights unseen?
    Her line; “When it’s over, I don’t want to wonder, if I have made of my life something particular, and real.” It makes me wonder why you would’nt stay around to find out. You don’t have to find yourself sighing and frightened or full of argument. A poet would see more, find more answers and continue until life has run it’s course in a natural way. It seems to me, that all the beauty, amazement and wonder scared her. Or, did she think the grass was greener on the other side?
    Sadly, she cannot convey to us what she has found.
    This poem makes me sad…..and angry. She brought out emotions in me that are now conflicted.
    I will read this poem again and again, all the while thinking, hoping that Mary Oliver found her answers.
    Thanks Terry. I love poetry and this poem touched me….hard!
    If I may, I’d like to reccomend to you a book:
    “The Best Loved Poems of the American People”. As selected by Hazel Felleman.

    1. I misled people in the way I wrote that Tim. Mary Oliver is still alive and working.. the woman who killed herself I had talked about in the column before but I failed to make that clear..

      I got a call at 8 this morning that one of our ‘honorary’ kids who we helped raise was hit while running by a van going 35 mph. He is in the Trauma Center in memphis and ever since the call came in I’ve been shaky. My oversight about the blog totally!

      I would have caught it if I’d been of sound mind …

      I WILL go find that book of poems! Thanks for recommending it…

      Hey I tried to email you but it bounced! New email address?

    2. Hi Timothy,
      I hope you will read the poem again and again. Mary Oliver lives in the moment, still, showing you and me the very things you mentioned. She adores and praises every aspect of her life, her “one singular and precious life,” because she doesn’t want to miss what is hers for the taking. That poem is a beautiful reminder, not a complaint or a fear.

      Thanks for the recommendation of Hazel Felleman’s collection. I will check it out!


      Terry, will you keep us posted on your Memphis child? I hope his recovery is complete and that he isn’t suffering. YOU are not a whiner; you are a delightful seer/revealer of what is. Blessings.

  4. Terry, I’m sorry I misunderstood about Mary Oliver, but I’m overjoyed to know she is still with us. I did believe she sat in a car with the engine running and ‘checked out’!
    I read about your friend Gary. With all my heart, I hope he recovers fully.
    @ Ann: I will now delve further into Mary Oliver’s works. She has me intrigued and I want to read her more, to understand her more.
    The book I spoke of, may have to be ordered from your local bookstore. I had mine since I was 12 years old; a gift from my Grandmother. It’s not out of print, just old. So, a lot of bookstores do not have it stocked.
    There is one poem in this collection that I’ve loved from the time I recieved it that still brings a tear to my eye. It’s called, ‘The Face Upon The Floor’ by H. Anotoine D’Arcy. I can safely say, it is my favorite poem of all.
    Oh, by the way Terry, my g-mail is
    Again, I hope all turns out well from this horrific ordeal you and your Families are enduring.

    1. I just want to thank you again for this and tell you that I ordered that book from the library – it was over in Newton – and read your poem . You have the soul of a rue Irish romantic Tim!

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