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Best Famous Anne Sexton Poems

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by Anne Sexton | |

Earthworm

 Slim inquirer, while the old fathers sleep
you are reworking their soil, you have
a grocery store there down under the earth
and it is well stocked with broken wine bottles,
old cigars, old door knobs and earth,
that great brown flour that you kiss each day.
There are dark stars in the cool evening and you fondle them like killer birds' beaks.
But what I want to know is why when small boys dig you up for curiosity and cut you in half why each half lives and crawls away as if whole.
Have you no beginning and end? Which heart is the real one? Which eye the seer? Why is it in the infinite plan that you would be severed and rise from the dead like a gargoyle with two heads?


by Anne Sexton | |

Lessons In Hunger

 "Do you like me?"
I asked the blue blazer.
No answer.
Silence bounced out of his books.
Silence fell off his tongue and sat between us and clogged my throat.
It slaughtered my trust.
It tore cigarettes out of my mouth.
We exchanged blind words, and I did not cry, and I did not beg, blackness lunged in my heart, and something that had been good, a sort of kindly oxygen, turned into a gas oven.
Do you like me? How absurd! What's a question like that? What's a silence like that? And what am I hanging around for, riddled with what his silence said?


by Anne Sexton | |

Housewife

 Some women marry houses.
It's another kind of skin; it has a heart, a mouth, a liver and bowel movements.
The walls are permanent and pink.
See how she sits on her knees all day, faithfully washing herself down.
Men enter by force, drawn back like Jonah into their fleshy mothers.
A woman is her mother.
That's the main thing.


More great poems below...

by Anne Sexton | |

Clothes

 Put on a clean shirt
before you die, some Russian said.
Nothing with drool, please, no egg spots, no blood, no sweat, no sperm.
You want me clean, God, so I'll try to comply.
The hat I was married in, will it do? White, broad, fake flowers in a tiny array.
It's old-fashioned, as stylish as a bedbug, but is suits to die in something nostalgic.
And I'll take my painting shirt washed over and over of course spotted with every yellow kitchen I've painted.
God, you don't mind if I bring all my kitchens? They hold the family laughter and the soup.
For a bra (need we mention it?), the padded black one that my lover demeaned when I took it off.
He said, "Where'd it all go?" And I'll take the maternity skirt of my ninth month, a window for the love-belly that let each baby pop out like and apple, the water breaking in the restaurant, making a noisy house I'd like to die in.
For underpants I'll pick white cotton, the briefs of my childhood, for it was my mother's dictum that nice girls wore only white cotton.
If my mother had lived to see it she would have put a WANTED sign up in the post office for the black, the red, the blue I've worn.
Still, it would be perfectly fine with me to die like a nice girl smelling of Clorox and Duz.
Being sixteen-in-the-pants I would die full of questions.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Sundays

 Moist, moist, 
the heat leaking through the hinges, 
sun baking the roof like a pie 
and I and thou and she 
eating, working, sweating, 
droned up on the heat.
The sun as read as the cop car siren.
The sun as red as the algebra marks.
The sun as red as two electric eyeballs.
She wanting to take a bath in jello.
You and me sipping vodka and soda, ice cubes melting like the Virgin Mary.
You cutting the lawn, fixing the machines, all htis leprous day and then more vodka, more soda and the pond forgiving our bodies, the pond sucking out the throb.
Our bodies were trash.
We leave them on the shore.
I and thou and she swin like minnows, losing all our queens and kinds, losing our hells and our tongues, cool, cool, all day that Sunday in July when we were young and did not look into the abyss, that God spot.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Cooks

 Herbs, garlic, 
cheese, please let me in! 
Souffles, salad, 
Parker House rolls, 
please let me in! 
Cook Helen, 
why are you so cross, 
why is your kitchen verboten? 
Couldn't you just teach me 
to bake a potato, 
to bake a potato, 
that charm, 
that young prince? 
No! No! 
This is my county! 
You shout silently.
Couldn't you just show me the gravy.
How you drill it out of the stomach of that bird? Helen, Helen, let me in, let me feel the flour, is it blinding and frightening, this stuff that makes cakes? Helen, Helen, the kitchen is your dog and you pat it and love it and keep it clean.
But all these things, all these dishes of things come through the swinging door and I don't know from where? Give me some tomato aspic, Helen! I don't want to be alone.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Stand-Ins

 In the dream
the swastika is neon
and flashes like a strobe light
into my eyes, all colors,
all vibrations
and I see the killer in him
and he turns on an oven,
an oven, an oven, an oven,
and on a pie plate he sticks
in my Yellow Star
and then
then when it is ready for serving—
this dream goes off into the wings
and on stage The Cross appears,
with Jesus sticking to it
and He is breathing
and breathing
and He is breathing
and breathing
and then He speaks,
a kind of whisper,
and says .
.
.
This is the start.
This is the end.
This is a light.
This is a start.
I woke.
I did not know the hour, an hour of night like thick scum but I considered the dreams, the two: Swastika, Crucifix, and said: Oh well, it does't belong to me, if a cigar can be a cigar then a dream can be a dream.
Right? Right? And went back to sleep and another start.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Earth

 The day of fire is coming, the thrush, 
will fly ablaze like a little sky rocket, 
the beetle will sink like a giant bulldozer, 
and at the breaking of the morning the houses 
will turn into oil and will in their tides 
of fire be a becoming and an ending, a red fan.
What then, man in your easy chair, of the anointment of the sick, of the New Jerusalem? You will have to polish up the stars with Bab-o and find a new God as the earth empties out into the gnarled hands of the old redeemer.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Expatriates

 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.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Firebombers

 We are America.
We are the coffin fillers.
We are the grocers of death.
We pack them in crates like cauliflowers.
The bomb opens like a shoebox.
And the child? The child is certainly not yawning.
And the woman? The woman is bathing her heart.
It has been torn out of her and as a last act she is rinsing it off in the river.
This is the death market.
America, where are your credentials?


by Anne Sexton | |

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 and straight.
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 my mind.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Gods Good-bye

 One day He
tipped His top hat
and walked
out of the room,
ending the arguement.
He stomped off saying: I don't give guarentees.
I was left quite alone using up the darkenss.
I rolled up my sweater, up into a ball, and took it to bed with me, a kind of stand-in for God, what washerwoman who walks out when you're clean but not ironed.
When I woke up the sweater had turned to bricks of gold.
I'd won the world but like a forsaken explorer, I'd lost my map.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Errand

 I've been going right on, page by page,
since we last kissed, two long dolls in a cage,
two hunger-mongers throwing a myth in and out,
double-crossing out lives with doubt,
leaving us separate now, fogy with rage.
But then I've told my readers what I think and scrubbed out the remainder with my shrink, have placed my bones in a jar as if possessed, have pasted a black wing over my left breast, have washed the white out of the moon at my sink, have eaten The Cross, have digested its lore, indeed, have loved that eggless man once more, have placed my own head in the kettle because in the end death won't settle for my hypochondrias, because this errand we're on goes to one store.
That shopkeeper may put up barricades, and he may advertise cognac and razor blades, he may let you dally at Nice or the Tuileries, he may let the state of our bowels have ascendancy, he may let such as we flaunt our escapades, swallow down our portion of whisky and dex, salvage the day with some soup or some sex, juggle our teabags as we inch down the hall, let the blood out of our fires with phenobarbital, lick the headlines for Starkweathers and Specks, let us be folk of the literary set, let us deceive with words the critics regret, let us dog down the streets for each invitation, typing out our lives like a Singer sewing sublimation, letting our delicate bottoms settle and yet they were spanked alive by some doctor of folly, given a horn or a dish to get by with, by golly, exploding with blood in this errand called life, dumb with snow and elbows, rubber man, a mother wife, tongues to waggle out of the words, mistletoe and holly, tables to place our stones on, decades of disguises, wntil the shopkeeper plants his boot in our eyes, and unties our bone and is finished with the case, and turns to the next customer, forgetting our face or how we knelt at the yellow bulb with sighs like moth wings for a short while in a small place.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Assassin

 The correct death is written in.
I will fill the need.
My bow is stiff.
My bow is in readiness.
I am the bullet and the hook.
I am cocked and held ready.
In my sights I carve him like a sculptor.
I mold out his last look at everyone.
I carry his eyes and his brain bone at every position.
I know his male sex and I do march over him with my index finger.
His mouth and his anus are one.
I am at the center of feeling.
A subway train is traveling across my crossbow.
I have a blood bolt and I have made it mine.
With this man I take in hand his destiny and with this gun I take in hand the newspapers and with my heat I will take him.
he will bend down toward me and his veins will tumble out like children.
.
.
Give me his flag and his eye.
Give me his hard shell and his lip.
He is my evil and my apple and I will see him home.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Jewels And Coal

 Many a miner has gone 
into the deep pit 
to receive the dust of a kiss, 
an ore-cell.
He has gone with his lamp full of mole eyes deep deep and has brought forth Jesus at Gethsemane.
Body of moss, body of glass, body of peat, how sharp you lie, emerald as heavy as a golf course, ruby as dark as an afterbirth, diamond as white as sun on the sea, coal, dark mother, brood mother, let the sea birds bring you into our lives as from a distant island, heavy as death.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Earth Falls Down

 If I could blame it all on the weather,
the snow like the cadaver's table,
the trees turned into knitting needles,
the ground as hard as a frozen haddock,
the pond wearing its mustache of frost.
If I could blame conditions on that, if I could blame the hearts of strangers striding muffled down the street, or blame the dogs, every color, sniffing each other and pissing on the doorstep.
.
.
If I could blame the bosses and the presidents for their unpardonable songs.
.
.
If I could blame it on all the mothers and fathers of the world, they of the lessons, the pellets of power, they of the love surrounding you like batter.
.
.
Blame it on God perhaps? He of the first opening that pushed us all into our first mistakes? No, I'll blame it on Man For Man is God and man is eating the earth up like a candy bar and not one of them can be left alone with the ocean for it is known he will gulp it all down.
The stars (possibly) are safe.
At least for the moment.
The stars are pears that no one can reach, even for a wedding.
Perhaps for a death.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Doctor Of The Heart

 Take away your knowledge, Doktor.
It doesn't butter me up.
You say my heart is sick unto.
You ought to have more respect! you with the goo on the suction cup.
You with your wires and electrodes fastened at my ankle and wrist, sucking up the biological breast.
You with your zigzag machine playing like the stock market up and down.
Give me the Phi Beta key you always twirl and I will make a gold crown for my molar.
I will take a slug if you please and make myself a perfectly good appendix.
Give me a fingernail for an eyeglass.
The world was milky all along.
I will take an iron and press out my slipped disk until it is flat.
But take away my mother's carcinoma for I have only one cup of fetus tears.
Take away my father's cerebral hemorrhage for I have only a jigger of blood in my hand.
Take away my sister's broken neck for I have only my schoolroom ruler for a cure.
Is there such a device for my heart? I have only a gimmick called magic fingers.
Let me dilate like a bad debt.
Here is a sponge.
I can squeeze it myself.
O heart, tobacco red heart, beat like a rock guitar.
I am at the ship's prow.
I am no longer the suicide with her raft and paddle.
Herr Doktor! I'll no longer die to spite you, you wallowing seasick grounded man.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Exorcists

 And I solemnly swear
on the chill of secrecy
that I know you not, this room never,
the swollen dress I wear,
nor the anonymous spoons that free me,
nor this calendar nor the pulse we pare and cover.
For all these present, before that wandering ghost, that yellow moth of my summer bed, I say: this small event is not.
So I prepare, am dosed in ether and will not cry what stays unsaid.
I was brown with August, the clapping waves at my thighs and a storm riding into the cove.
We swam while the others beached and burst for their boarded huts, their hale cries shouting back to us and the hollow slam of the dory against the float.
Black arms of thunder strapped upon us, squalled out, we breathed in rain and stroked past the boat.
We thrashed for shore as if we were trapped in green and that suddenly inadequate stain of lightning belling around our skin.
Bodies in air we raced for the empty lobsterman-shack.
It was yellow inside, the sound of the underwing of the sun.
I swear, I most solemnly swear, on all the bric-a-brac of summer loves, I know you not.


by Anne Sexton | |

Crossing The Atlantic

 We sail out of season into on oyster-gray wind,
over a terrible hardness.
Where Dickens crossed with mal de mer in twenty weeks or twenty days I cross toward him in five.
Wraped in robes-- not like Caesar but like liver with bacon-- I rest on the stern burning my mouth with a wind-hot ash, watching my ship bypass the swells as easily as an old woman reads a palm.
I think; as I look North, that a field of mules lay down to die.
The ship is 27 hours out.
I have entered her.
She might be a whale, sleeping 2000 and ship's company, the last 40¢ martini and steel staterooms where night goes on forever.
Being inside them is, I think, the way one would dig into a planet and forget the word light.
I have walked cities, miles of mole alleys with carpets.
Inside I have been ten girls who speak French.
They languish everywhere like bedsheets.
Oh my Atlantic of the cracked shores, those blemished gates of Rockport and Boothbay, those harbor smells like the innards of animals! Old childish Queen, where did you go, you bayer at wharfs and Victorian houses? I have read each page of my mother's voyage.
I have read each page of her mother's voyage.
I have learned their words as they learned Dickens'.
I have swallowed these words like bullets.
But I have forgotten the last guest--terror.
Unlike them, I cannot toss in the cabin as in childbirth.
Now always leaving me in the West is the wake, a ragged bridal veil, unexplained, seductive, always rushing down the stairs, never detained, never enough.
The ship goes on as though nothing else were happening.
Generation after generation, I go her way.
She will run East, knot by knot, over an old bloodstream, stripping it clear, each hour ripping it, pounding, pounding, forcing through as through a virgin.
Oh she is so quick! This dead street never stops!


by Anne Sexton | |

Bayonet

 What can I do with this bayonet?
Make a rose bush of it?
Poke it into the moon?
Shave my legs with its silver?
Spear a goldfish?
No.
No.
It was made in my dream for you.
My eyes were closed.
I was curled fetally and yet I held a bayonet that was for the earth of your stomach.
The belly button singing its puzzle.
The intestines winding like alpine roads.
It was made to enter you as you have entered me and to cut the daylight into you and let out your buried heartland, to let out the spoon you have fed me with, to let out the bird that said fuck you, to carve him onto a sculpture until he is white and I could put him on a shelf, an object unthinking as a stone, but with all the vibrations of a crucifix.


by Anne Sexton | |

Where It Was At Back Then

 Husband,
last night I dreamt
they cut off your hands and feet.
Husband, you whispered to me, Now we are both incomplete.
Husband, I held all four in my arms like sons and daughters.
Husband, I bent slowly down and washed them in magical waters.
Husband, I placed each one where it belonged on you.
"A miracle," you said and we laughed the laugh of the well-to-do.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Balance Wheel

 Where I waved at the sky
And waited your love through a February sleep,
I saw birds swinging in, watched them multiply
Into a tree, weaving on a branch, cradling a keep
In the arms of April sprung from the south to occupy
This slow lap of land, like cogs of some balance wheel.
I saw them build the air, with that motion birds feel.
Where I wave at the sky And understand love, knowing our August heat, I see birds pulling past the dim frosted thigh Of Autumn, unlatched from the nest, and wing-beat For the south, making their high dots across the sky, Like beauty spots marking a still perfect cheek.
I see them bend the air, slipping away, for what birds seek.


by Anne Sexton | |

In The Deep Museum

 My God, my God, what queer corner am I in? 
Didn't I die, blood running down the post, 
lungs gagging for air, die there for the sin 
of anyone, my sour mouth giving up the ghost? 
Surely my body is done? Surely I died? 
And yet, I know, I'm here.
What place is this? Cold and queer, I sting with life.
I lied.
Yes, I lied.
Or else in some damned cowardice my body would not give me up.
I touch fine cloth with my hand and my cheeks are cold.
If this is hell, then hell could not be much, neither as special or as ugly as I was told.
What's that I hear, snuffling and pawing its way toward me? Its tongue knocks a pebble out of place as it slides in, a sovereign.
How can I pray> It is panting; it is an odor with a face like the skin of a donkey.
It laps my sores.
It is hurt, I think, as a I touch its little head.
It bleeds.
I have forgiven murderers and whores and now must wait like old Jonah, not dead nor alive, stroking a clumsy animal.
A rat.
His teeth test me; he waits like a good cook, knowing his own ground.
I forgive him that, as I forgave my Judas the money he took.
Now I hold his soft red sore to my lips as his brothers crowd in, hairy angels who take my gift.
My ankles are a flute.
I lose hips and wrists.
For three days, for love's sake, I bless this other death.
Oh, not in air -- in dirt.
Under the rotting veins of its roots, under the markets, under the sheep bed where the hill is food, under the slippery fruits of the vineyard, I go.
Unto the bellies and jaws of rats I commit my prophecy and fear.
Far below The Cross, I correct its flaws.
We have kept the miracle.
I will not be here.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Lost Ingredient

 Almost yesterday, those gentle ladies stole
to their baths in Atlantic Cuty, for the lost
rites of the first sea of the first salt
running from a faucet.
I have heard they sat for hours in briny tubs, patting hotel towels sweetly over shivered skin, smelling the stale harbor of a lost ocean, praying at last for impossible loves, or new skin, or still another child.
And since this was the style, I don't suppose they knew what they had lost.
Almost yesterday, pushing West, I lost ten Utah driving minutes, stopped to steal past postcard vendors, crossed the hot slit of macadam to touch the marvelous loosed bobbing of The Salt Lake, to honor and assault it in its proof, to wash away some slight need for Maine's coast.
Later the funny salt itched in my pores and stung like bees or sleet.
I rinsed it off on Reno and hurried to steal a better proof at tables where I always lost.
Today is made of yesterday, each time I steal toward rites I do not know, waiting for the lost ingredient, as if salt or money or even lust would keep us calm and prove us whole at last.


by Anne Sexton | |

The Fury Of Guitars And Sopranos

 This singing 
is a kind of dying, 
a kind of birth, 
a votive candle.
I have a dream-mother who sings with her guitar, nursing the bedroom with a moonlight and beautiful olives.
A flute came too, joining the five strings, a God finger over the holes.
I knew a beautiful woman once who sang with her fingertips and her eyes were brown like small birds.
At the cup of her breasts I drew wine.
At the mound of her legs I drew figs.
She sang for my thirst, mysterious songs of God that would have laid an army down.
It was as if a morning-glory had bloomed in her throat and all that blue and small pollen ate into my heart violent and religious.