Goodreads helps you keep track of books you want to read.
Start by marking “Live or Die: Poems” as Want to Read:
Live or Die: Poems
Enlarge cover
Rate this book
Clear rating
Open Preview

Live or Die: Poems

4.19  ·  Rating details ·  958 ratings  ·  81 reviews
Winner of the Pulitzer Prize: A gripping poetry collection mapping the thorny journey from madness to hope

With her emotionally raw and deeply resonant third collection, Live or Die, Anne Sexton confirmed her place among the most celebrated poets of the twentieth century. Sexton described the volume, which depicts a fictionalized version of her struggle with mental illness
Kindle Edition, 106 pages
Published April 5th 2016 by Open Road Media (first published 1966)
More Details... Edit Details

Friend Reviews

To see what your friends thought of this book, please sign up.

Reader Q&A

To ask other readers questions about Live or Die, please sign up.

Be the first to ask a question about Live or Die

This book is not yet featured on Listopia. Add this book to your favorite list »

Community Reviews

Showing 1-30
4.19  · 
Rating details
 ·  958 ratings  ·  81 reviews

More filters
Sort order
Dec 27, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
I have heard of fish
coming up for the sun
who stayed forever,
shoulder to shoulder,
avenues of fish that never got back,
all their proud spots and solitudes
sucked out of them.

I think of flies
who come from the foul caves
out into the arena.
They are transparent at first.
Then they are blue with copper wings.
They glitter on the forehead of men.
Neither bird nor acrobat
they will dry out like small black shoes.

I am an identical being.
Diseased by the cold and the smell of the house
I undress under the burning
Jan 02, 2013 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry, 2013, reviewed
This is a problem.

When a person suffers and expresses that suffering incisively, shouldn't we feel compassion and shouldn't that compassion be absolute?

Why isn't it then?

Why do goths grate on us so much and why do people sometimes say, "Then kill yourself already!" when what they'd rather have is for the person to get better?

It must be the self-centeredness of the whining. Suicide shouldn't be judged harshly, but complaining endlessly probably should.

As someone not known for being Mr. Sunshine,
Jun 16, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: of-poems

"But suicides have a special language.
Like carpenters they want to know which tools.
They never ask why build."

This collection is really just all DIE. Her 'Love Poems' are more LIVE.

I liked these, many are clear descriptions of losing sanity, willpower, feeling, someone...
But I prefer her 'Love Poems', because I get a kick out of Sexton's explicit and strong yearning in her poems, and I find this was more captivating in her poems for love than those for death.

Flee On Your Donkey
Apr 12, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was by far my favourite collection of Anne Sexton’s that I’ve read so far.

She starts off by quoting Arthur Rimbaud within one of the first poems which made me instantly fall hook, line and sinker for her once again. She coincidentally has a habit of quoting everyone that I’ve always wanted to see indexed in this type of literature.

She also dedicates one of her poems to Sylvia Plath who was a close friend of hers at college. This one really gnaws at your heartstrings considering the fact t
Jan 12, 2017 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: kindle, january-2017
Live or Die is Anne Sexton's fourth collection of poetry. I'd not read any of her work before, but had a feeling that I would love it. There were some poems here which I didn't much like, I must admit, but others far made up for them. There are so many interesting ideas and themes at play throughout, and her tribute to Sylvia Plath was quite beautiful. The downside for me was that there was too much religious imagery included for my personal liking.
rafael m~fausto
I wanted to write such a poem
with such musics, such guitars going;
I tried at the teeth of sound
to draw up such legions of noise;
I tried at the breakwater
to catch the star off each ship;
and at the closing of hands
I looked for their houses
and silences.
I found just one.
you were mine
and I lent you out.
I look for uncomplicated hymns
but love has none.
Mar 18, 2009 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Painfully sensitive, horribly depressing, joyful and heart-wrenching... I read this a lot as a teen
Dec 29, 2015 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2016
my favourite poem by far is 'wanting to die'
Mar 25, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
this has been... haunting. thanks ma
Miguel Vega
"I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift."

This collection was so raw and so complete I loved it. Her struggles with choosing to live or die is fascinating and I love how she chose life at the end. Tragic how death won out for her (through herself) in the end.

Favorites: The Sun, Three Green Windows, Somewhere in Africa, Imitations of drowning, Love Song, Those Times..., Sylvia's Death, For the Year of the Insane, Menstruation at Forty, KE 6-8018, Wanting to Die, Self i
My favourite of the bunch was The Addict.
Apr 23, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
At the first reading, I felt that the Live or Die was a step back from All My Pretty Ones. However, I felt that I needed to read these poems more closely and then doing so increased my appreciation. The poems here are more complex and advanced than All My Pretty Ones much like that collection advanced from To Bedlam And Half-Way Back.

One of Sexton's talents that I missed here is her ability to arrange poems in an order that illuminates the following poems, she does that best in Transformations.
Gloria Sun
Dec 30, 2016 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
This was so cool because Sexton was an author living in Boston, so I knew all these places she was mentioning. Anyway, these poems were highly autobiographical and I think she was contemplating suicide and they felt really relevant. While working on this volume her friend Sylvia Plath died and some other people and I feel like I could understand her. All these poems just went by so quickly, but the last one was titled "Live" and it was so affirmative.
So good. It definitely deserved the Pulitzer it won.
Wells T.
Nov 21, 2014 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
In "Live or Die" Sexton marries Christian ceremony with the psychiatric worship of chemical self help. The result is a tragic anthem of communion, uncertain worship and unknowing provenance.
Mar 08, 2009 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I like her nursery rhymes.
Oct 17, 2007 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: long-ago, poetry
I opened my copy to find her NYT obit. Such a beautiful, gifted, young woman. So sad.
Zachary Littrell
Jun 10, 2019 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
I am no more a woman
than Christ was a man

Ooh, chew on that! That's the sorta enjambment your Momma warns you about. About once a year I read a poet that reminds me why I like reading poetry -- something that cuts through the horse manure platitudes that pass for poetry, and instead strike true. That spark of joy of discovering someone articulating feelings I did not have words for.

And it sure is funny that I find joy and excitement in some Eeyore-ass depressing elegies.
Dear friend,
I will have
Anna-Catherine Kueng
I first heard of Anne Sexton after reading her poem "When Man Enters Woman." I checked out 'Live or Die' because that was the only poetry collection the library had available. I am very particular about poetry and if there are any hints of cliche writing, I quickly stop reading the collection. Anne Sexton's poems had none of those. Every poem was unique, absurd, and intriguing. The themes of 'Live or Die' are death (obviously), sex, femininity, and childbirth. My favorite poem was "Your Face On ...more
Karen Beculhimer
Mar 16, 2019 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: 2019
"I say Live, Live, live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift."

This is astonishing artistry and well deserving of the Pulitzer prize it earned. Some of the poems I had to read over again to understand but when I did I was amazed. Yes she speaks about her depression but she also speaks of love, childhood memories, family, and womanhood. I wish she and all writers who ended their lives (such as Hemingway) would be remembered more for their talent than how they died. Hers is a talent w
Caroline Mao
3.75 - I don't deny that Sexton is a skilled poet, but rounded down because she's really not my style and a lot of it just didn't resonate with me. Although to be fair the fixation on death is super relatable, thanks Sexton. A lot of the "eh, can't sympathize that much" might also come from the fact that while I am totally aware you can like the writing of a person who's said/done terrible things without condoning those things or liking the person (hi, Neruda!), a poem like "Little Girl, My Stri ...more
Salma Amr
Oct 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I cannot believe it took me nine whole days to finish this book. I am glad it took me nine whole days to finish it. I came across this book via a recommendation of books that women should read. I have loved the chronological order that the poems have followed; it gave me a sense of what the author felt through consecutive periods of time. There were some beautiful poems, and some of which were terribly sad. But even the poems that have discussed themes that I have yet to encounter in life as a w ...more
Feb 20, 2018 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: poetry
This collection has grown on me over the years, its contents cohering as the distillation of four years in a troubled life, with Anne Sexton's unsweetened psychic excavations periodically interrupted by the loss of a friend ("Sylvia's Death"), a yearly holiday ("Christmas Eve") or even the injury experienced by a child ("Pain for a Daughter"). There's a constant rigor to the digging here which may explain why this queen of the confession so often strikes gold.
Apr 30, 2018 rated it really liked it  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: non-fiction, poetry
An emotionally heavy collection of poetry that captures the uncertainty and despair of depression. These poems do a great job of conveying the feelings of the author and the life events and inner conflicts she is writing about. Full of emotion and reflecting the influences in the authors life, her family, her religion, her children, I can see how this work helped the author work through her personal challenges. I would rate this book 3.5 stars if Goodreads allowed half stars.
May 24, 2018 rated it it was amazing
Shelves: 2018, poetry
I know that these were published and intended for people to experience for themselves aside from whatever the author went through to create them, but I still can't help feeling a little guilty for enjoying so much a product of Ms. Sexton's emotions and tribulations. These were raw and heartbreaking poems and I'm glad to have come across them.
Edwin Nealley
May 28, 2018 rated it really liked it
The Knife

Words are a knife, that can cure you or cut you. Or perhaps in Sexton's hand they were a lethal toy, which she could, but won't use, not just yet.
Cutting, confessional, very personal words from someone who desperately wanted to speak, but certainly could not speak of what she lived in polite society.
Not an easy read, but a gripping self portrait, or a series of them.
Cooper Renner
Feb 18, 2018 rated it it was ok  ·  review of another edition
Shelves: abandoned
I’m sorry. I just can’t make myself care about these flaccid prosy ruminations. Sometimes the images are sharp, but the context is still the jagged psychological loathing—a kind of writing I especially dislike, and not in this case redeemed by good enough writing. I quit not quite halfway. Maybe I’ll try to finish it later.
Jun 22, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
I struggled with what rating to give this book. It's stark and beautiful. It's sad and often painful. It's tragic and real. In the end, I decided that any discomfort I might have felt with some of her poems was a good thing. She succeeded in making me feel something, and that kind of emotional resonance is what I'm looking for in poetry.
Aug 29, 2017 rated it it was amazing  ·  review of another edition
Exquisite verses bridge topics that were controversial at the time writer lived. Offbeat and drugged sounding voice. Author was friends with Plath as seen in writing.
Ending verse...
"I say Live, Live because of the sun, the dream, the excitable gift."
Apr 30, 2018 rated it liked it  ·  review of another edition
"I look for uncomplicated hymns
but love has none."
« previous 1 3 next »
There are no discussion topics on this book yet. Be the first to start one »

Readers also enjoyed

  • Heart's Needle
  • 77 Dream Songs
  • The Carrier of Ladders
  • Collected Poems
  • Selected Poems
  • Black Zodiac
  • Practical Gods
  • New Hampshire
  • Late Wife
  • The Simple Truth
  • Moy Sand and Gravel
  • Thomas and Beulah
  • The Age of Anxiety: A Baroque Eclogue
  • Searching for Mercy Street: My Journey Back to My Mother, Anne Sexton
  • Repair
  • Failure
  • The Morning of the Poem
  • Pictures from Brueghel and Other Poems
See similar books…
Anne Sexton once told a journalist that her fans thought she got better, but actually, she just became a poet. These words are characteristic of a talented poet that received therapy for years, but committed suicide in spite of this. The poetry fed her art, but it also imprisoned her in a way.

Her parents didn’t expect much of her academically, and after completing her schooling at Rogers Hall, sh
“So I won't hang around in my hospital shift,
repeating The Black Mass and all of it.
I say Live, Live because of the sun,
the dream, the excitable gift.”
“Death’s a sad bone; bruised, you’d say, and yet she waits for me, year after year, to so delicately undo an old wound,” 0 likes
More quotes…