Anne Sexton was an American poet known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967 for her book Live or Die.
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Famous Anne Sexton Poems
Torn Down From Glory Daily
All day we watched the gulls
striking the top of the sky
and riding the blown roller coaster.
godding the whole blue world
and shrieking at a snip of land.
Now, like children,
we climb down humps of rock
with a bag of dinner rolls,
and spread them gently on stone,
leaving six crusts for an early king.
A single watcher comes hawking in,
rides the current round its hunger
carved in silk
until it throbs up suddenly,
out, and one inch over water;
to come again
smoothing over the slap tide.
To come bringing its flock, like a city
of wings that fall from the air.
They wait, each like a wooden decoy
or soft like a pigeon or
a sweet snug duck:
until one moves, moves that dart-beak
breaking over. It has the bread.
The world is full of them,
a world of beasts
thrusting for one rock.
Just four scoop out the bread
and go swinging over Gloucester
to the top of the sky.
Oh see how
they cushion their fishy bellies
with a brother’s crumb.
The Road Back
The car is heavy with children
tugged back from summer,
swept out of their laughing beach,
swept out while a persistent rumour
tells them nothing ends.
Today we fret and pull
on wheels, ignore our regular loss
of time, count cows and others
while the sun moves over
like an old albatross
we must not count nor kill.
There is no word for time.
Today we will
not think to number another summer
or watch its white bird into the ground.
Today, all cars,
all fathers, all mothers, all
children and lovers will
have to forget
about that thing in the sky,
like a persistent rumor
that will get us yet.
Today the circus poster
is scabbing off the concrete wall
and the children have forgotten
if they knew at all.
Father, do you remember?
Only the sound remains,
the distant thump of the good elephants,
the voice of the ancient lions
and how the bells
trembled for the flying man.
lifted to your high shoulder
or small at the rough legs of strangers,
was not afraid.
You held my hand
and were instant to explain
the three rings of danger.
Oh see the naughty clown
and the wild parade
while love love
love grew rings around me.
this was the sound where it began;
our breath pounding up to see
the flying man breast out
across the boarded sky
and climb the air.
I remember the color of music
and how forever
all the trembling bells of you
Reasonable, reasonable, reasonable…we walked through
ten different homes, they always call them homes,
to find one ward where they like the babies who
looks like you. Each time, the eyes that no one owns
watched us intently, these visitors from the street
that moves outside. They watched, but did not know
about time, there in the house where babies never grow.
My boy, though innocent and mild
your brain is obsolete.
Those six times that you almost died
the newest medicine and the family fuss
pulled you back again. Supplied
with air, against my guilty wish,
your clogged pipes cried
At first your mother said…why me! why me!
But she got over that. Now she enjoys
her dull daily care and her hectic bravery.
You do not love anyone. She is not growing a boy;
she is enlarging a stone to wear around her neck.
Some nights in our bed her mouth snores at me coldly
or when she turns, her kisses walking out of the sea,
I think of the bad stories,
the monster and the wreck.
I think of that Scandinavian tale
that tells of the king who killed nine
sons in turn. Slaughtered wholesale,
they had one life in common
as you have mine,
For months my hand was sealed off
in a tin box. Nothing was there but the subway railings.
Perhaps it is bruised, I thought,
and that is why they have locked it up.
You could tell time by this, I thought,
like a clock, by its five knuckles
and the thin underground veins.
It lay there like an unconscious woman
fed by tubes she knew not of.
The hand had collapse,
a small wood pigeon
that had gone into seclusion.
I turned it over and the palm was old,
its lines traced like fine needlepoint
and stitched up into fingers.
It was fat and soft and blind in places.
Nothing but vulnerable.
And all this is metaphor.
An ordinary hand – just lonely
for something to touch
that touches back.
The dog won’t do it.
Her tail wags in the swamp for a frog.
I’m no better than a case of dog food.
She owns her own hunger.
My sisters won’t do it.
They live in school except for buttons
and tears running down like lemonade.
My father won’t do it.
He comes in the house and even at night
he lives in a machine made by my mother
and well oiled by his job, his job.
The trouble is
that I’d let my gestures freeze.
The trouble was not
in the kitchen or the tulips
but only in my head, my head.
Then all this became history.
Your hand found mine.
Life rushed to my fingers like a blood clot.
Oh, my carpenter,
the fingers are rebuilt.
They dance with yours.
They dance in the attic and in Vienna.
My hand is alive all over America.
Not even death will stop it,
death shedding her blood.
Nothing will stop it, for this is the kingdom
and the kingdom come.
Coon, why did you come to this dance
with a mask on? Why not the tin man
and his rainbow girl? Why not Racine,
his hair marcelled down to his chest?
Why not come as a stomach digesting
its worms? Why you little fellow
with your ears at attention and your
nose poking up like a microphone?
You whig emblem, you woman chaser,
who do you dance over the wide lawn tonight
clanging the garbage pail like great silver bells?
The Fury Of Rain Storms
The rain drums down like red ants,
each bouncing off my window.
The ants are in great pain
and they cry out as they hit
as if their little legs were only
stitched on and their heads pasted.
And oh they bring to mind the grave,
so humble, so willing to be beat upon
with its awful lettering and
the body lying underneath
without an umbrella.
Depression is boring, I think
and I would do better to make
some soup and light up the cave.
My dear, it was a moment
to clutch for a moment
so that you may believe in it
and believing is the act of love, I think,
even in the telling, wherever it went.
In the false New England forest
where the misplanted Norwegian trees
refused to root, their thick synthetic
roots barging out of the dirt to work on the air,
we held hands and walked on our knees.
Actually, there was no one there.
For fourty years this experimental
woodland grew, shaft by shaft in perfect rows
where its stub branches held and its spokes fell.
It was a place of parallel trees, their lives
filed out in exile where we walked too alien to know
our sameness and how our sameness survives.
Outside of us the village cars followed
the white line we had carefully walked
two nights before toward our single beds.
We lay halfway up an ugly hill and if we fell
it was here in the woods where the woods were caught
in their dying and you held me well.
And now I must dream the forest whole
and your sweet hands, not once as frozen
as those stopped trees, nor ruled, nor pale,
nor leaving mine. Today in my house, I see
our house, its pillars a dim basement of men
holding up their foreign ground for you and me.
My dear, it was a time,
butchered from time
that we must tell of quickly
before we lose the sound of our own
mouths calling mine, mine, mine.
For Johnny Pole On The Forgotten Beach
In his tenth July some instinct
taught him to arm the waiting wave,
a giant where its mouth hung open.
He rode on the lip that buoyed him there
and buckled him under. The beach was strung
with children paddling their ages in,
under the glare od noon chipping
its light out. He stood up, anonymous
and straight among them, between
their sand pails and nursery crafts.
The breakers cartwheeled in and over
to puddle their toes and test their perfect
skin. He was my brother, my small
Johnny brother, almost ten. We flopped
down upon a towel to grind the sand
under us and watched the Atlantic sea
move fire, like night sparklers;
and lost our weight in the festival
season. He dreamed, he said, to be
a man designed like a balanced wave…
how someday he would wait, giant
Johnny, your dream moves summers
inside my mind.
He was tall and twenty that July,
but there was no balance to help;
only the shells came straight and even.
This was the first beach of assault;
the odor of death hung in the air
like rotting potatoes, the junkyard
of landing craft waited open and rusting.
The bodies were strung out as if they were
still reaching for each other, where they lay
to blacken, to burst through their perfect
skin. And Johnny Pole was one of them.
He gave in like a small wave, a sudden
hole in his belly and the years all gone
where the Pacific noon chipped its light out.
Like a bean bag, outflung, head loose
and anonymous, he lay. Did the sea move fire
for its battle season? Does he lie there
forever, where his rifle waits, giant
and straight?…I think you die again
and live again,
Johnny, each summer that moves inside
It was also my violent heart that broke,
falling down the front hall stairs.
It was also a message I never spoke,
calling, riser after riser, who cares
about you, who cares, splintering up
the hip that was merely made of crystal,
the post of it and also the cup.
I exploded in the hallway like a pistol.
So I fell apart. So I came all undone.
Yes. I was like a box of dog bones.
But now they’ve wrapped me in like a nun.
Burst like firecrackers! Held like stones!
What a feat sailing queerly like Icarus
until the tempest undid me and I broke.
The ambulance drivers made such a fuss.
But when I cried, ‘Wait for my courage!’ they smoked
and then they placed me, tied me up on their plate,
and wheeled me out to their coffin, my nest.
Slowly the siren slowly the hearse, sedate
as a dowager. At the E. W. they cut off my dress.
I cried, ‘Oh Jesus, help me! Oh Jesus Christ!’
and the nurse replied, ‘Wrong name. My name
is Barbara,’ and hung me in an odd device,
a buck’s extension and a Balkan overhead frame.
The orthopedic man declared,
‘You’ll be down for a year.’ His scoop. His news.
He opened the skin. He scraped. He pared
and drilled through bone for his four-inch screws.
That takes brute strength like pushing a cow
up hill. I tell you, it takes skill
and bedside charm and all that know how.
The body is a damn hard thing to kill.
But please don’t touch or jiggle my bed.
I’m Ethan Frome’s wife. I’ll move when I’m able.
The T. V. hangs from the wall like a moose head.
I hide a pint of bourbon in my bedside table.
A bird full of bones, now I’m held by a sand bag.
The fracture was twice. The fracture was double.
The days are horizontal. The days are a drag.
All of the skeleton in me is in trouble.
Across the hall is the bedpan station.
The urine and stools pass hourly by my head
in silver bowls. They flush in unison
in the autoclave. My one dozen roses are dead.
The have ceased to menstruate. They hang
there like little dried up blood clots.
And the heart too, that cripple, how it sang
once. How it thought it could call the shots!
Understand what happened the day I fell.
My heart had stammered and hungered at
a marriage feast until the angel of hell
turned me into the punisher, the acrobat.
My bones are loose as clothespins,
as abandoned as dolls in a toy shop
and my heart, old hunger motor, with its sins
revved up like an engine that would not stop.
And now I spend all day taking care
of my body, that baby. Its cargo is scarred.
I anoint the bedpan. I brush my hair,
waiting in the pain machine for my bones to get hard,
for the soft, soft bones that were laid apart
and were screwed together. They will knit.
And the other corpse, the fractured heart,
I feed it piecemeal, little chalice. I’m good to it.
Yet lie a fire alarm it waits to be known.
It is wired. In it many colors are stored.
While my body’s in prison, heart cells alone
have multiplied. My bones are merely bored
with all this waiting around. But the heart,
this child of myself that resides in the flesh,
this ultimate signature of the me, the start
of my blindness and sleep, builds a death crèche.
The figures are placed at the grave of my bones.
All figures knowing it is the other death
they came for. Each figure standing alone.
The heart burst with love and lost its breath.
This little town, this little country is real
and thus it is so of the post and the cup
and thus of the violent heart. The zeal
of my house doth eat me up.
The Waiting Head
If I really am walking with ordinary habit
past the same rest home on the same local street
and see another waiting head at that upper front window,
just as she would always sit,
watching for anyone from her wooden seat,
then anything can be true. I only know
how each night she wrote in her leather books
that no one came. Surely I remember the hooks
of her fingers curled on mine, though even now
will not admit the times I did avoid this street,
where she lived on and on like a bleached fig
and forgot us anyhow;
visiting the pulp of her kiss, bending to repeat
each favor, trying to comb out her mossy wig
and forcing love to last. Now she is always dead
and the leather books are mine. Today I see the head
move, like some pitted angel, in that high window.
What is the waiting head doing? It looks the same.
Will it lean forward as I turn to go?
I think I hear it call to me below
but no one came no one came
The Wedding Ring Dance
I dance in circles holding
the moth of the marriage,
thin, sticky, fluttering
its skirts, its webs.
The moth oozing a tear,
or is it a drop of urine?
The moth, grinning like a pear,
or is it teeth
clamping the iron maiden shut?
who is my mother,
who is my father,
who was my lover,
floats airily out of my hands
and I dance slower,
pulling off the fat diamond engagement ring,
pulling off the elopement wedding ring,
and holding them, clicking them
in thumb and forefinger,
the indent of twenty-five years,
like a tiny rip of a tiny earthquake.
Underneath the soil lies the violence,
the shift, the crack of continents,
and above only a cut,
a half-inch space to stick a pencil in.
The finger is scared
but it keeps its long numb place.
And I keep dancing,
a sort of waltz,
clicking the two rings,
all of a life at its last cough,
as I swim through the air of the kitchen,
and the same radio plays its songs
and I make a small path through them
with my bare finger and my funny feet,
doing the undoing dance,
on April 14th, 1973,
letting my history rip itself off me
and stepping into
but all ten fingers stretched outward,
flesh extended as metal
waiting for a magnet.
The family story tells, and it was told true,
of my great-grandfather who begat eight
genius children and bought twelve almost-new
grand pianos. He left a considerable estate
when he died. The children honored their
separate arts; two became moderately famous,
three married and fattened their delicate share
of wealth and brilliance. The sixth one was
a concert pianist. She had a notable career
and wore cropped hair and walked like a man,
or so I heard when prying a childhood car
into the hushed talk of the straight Maine clan.
One died a pinafore child, she stays her five
years forever. And here is one that wrote-
I sort his odd books and wonder his once alive
words and scratch out my short marginal notes
and finger my accounts.
back from that great-grandfather I have come
to tidy a country graveyard for his sake,
to chat with the custodian under a yearly sun
and touch a ghost sound where it lies awake.
I like best to think of that Bunyan man
slapping his thighs and trading the yankee sale
for one dozen grand pianos. it fit his plan
of culture to do it big. On this same scale
he built seven arking houses and they still stand.
One, five stories up, straight up like a square
box, still dominates its coastal edge of land.
It is rented cheap in the summer musted air
to sneaker-footed families who pad through
its rooms and sometimes finger the yellow keys
of an old piano that wheezes bells of mildew.
Like a shoe factory amid the spruce trees
it squats; flat roof and rows of windows spying
through the mist. Where those eight children danced
their starfished summers, the thirty-six pines sighing,
that bearded man walked giant steps and chanced
his gifts in numbers.
Back from that great-grandfather I have come
to puzzle a bending gravestone for his sake,
to question this diminishing and feed a minimum
of children their careful slice of suburban cake.
Old Dwarf Heart
True. All too true. I have never been at home in
life. All my decay has taken place upon a child.
Henderson the Rain King, by Saul Bellow
When I lie down to love,
old dwarf heart shakes her head.
Like an imbecile she was bom old.,
Her eyes wobble as thirty-one thick folds
of skin open to glare at me on my flickering bed.
She knows the decay we’re made of.
When hurt she is abrupt.
Now she is solid, like fat,
breathing in loops like a green hen
in the dust. But if I dream of loving, then
my dreams are of snarling strangers. She dreams that…
strange, strange, and corrupt.
Good God, the things she knows!
And worse, the sores she holds
in her hands, gathered in like a nest
from an abandoned field. At her best
she is all red muscle, humming in and out, cajoled
by time. Where I go, she goes.
Oh now I lay me down to love,
how awkwardly her arms undo,
bow patiently I untangle her wrists
like knots. Old ornament, old naked fist,
even if I put on seventy coats I could not cover you…
mother, father, I’m made of.
The Fury Of God’s Good-Bye
One day He
tipped His top hat
out of the room,
ending the argument.
He stomped off
‘I don’t give guarantees’.
I was left
using up the darkness.
I rolled up
up into a ball,
and took it
to bed with me,
a kind of stand-in
who walks out
when you’re clean
but not ironed.
When I woke up
had turned to
bricks of gold.
I’d won the world
but like a