September 2, 1961

“That does not keep me from having a terrible need of—shall I say the word—religion. Then I go out at night to paint the stars.”
      —Vincent Van Gogh, in a letter to his brother

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.

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:

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.

This article is part of The Nation’s 150th Anniversary Special Issue. Download a free PDF of the issue, with articles by James Baldwin, Barbara Ehrenreich, Toni Morrison, Howard Zinn and many more, here.

Anne Sexton (1928–1974) won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for Live or Die.