THE TRUTH THE DEAD KNOW
by Anne Sexton
For my Mother, born March 1902, died March 1959
and my Father, born February 1900, died June 1959
Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.
We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself where the sun gutters from the sky,
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and we touch. In another country people die.
My darling, the wind falls in like stones
from the whitehearted water and when we touch
we enter touch entirely. No one’s alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.
And what of the dead? They lie without shoes
in the stone boats. They are more like stone
than the sea would be if it stopped. They refuse
to be blessed, throat, eye and knucklebone.
Anne Sexton (1928 – 1974) was an influential American poet, known for her highly personal, confessional verse. She won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1967. Themes of her poetry include her suicidal tendencies, long battle against depression, and various intimate details from her own private life, including her relationship with her husband and children. (Annotated biography of Anne Sexton courtesy of Wikipedia.org.)
Editor’s Note: Today’s post is dedicated to the poet Norma Liliana Valdez, who recently shared an audio recording of Sexton reading today’s selection. Keep an eye out for the work of Ms. Valdez who, like Sexton, has the ability to transform emotional turmoil into a poetic experience that transforms her readers.
For me, this piece slices as close to the bone as a poem can. That inevitable human experience of losing my parents is my greatest fear.
Despite the inherently personal nature of the poem and of Sexton’s experience, a distance can be felt in her choice of words and images. In another country people die, not in this, her own country. The dead lie in boats, not here with her. And Sexton’s discussion within the poem is directed to her darling, to someone among the living with whom she is sharing an experience of touch, of connection, of living and of not being alone. It feels as though in order to even comprehend the overwhelming experience of losing her parents Sexton has to distance herself from that experience and throw herself into connection with another living being, with the notion that “no one’s alone.”
Want to read more by and about Anne Sexton?
Audio recording of Sexton reading “The Truth the Dead Know”
Modern American Poetry
4 thoughts on “SATURDAY POETRY SERIES PRESENTS: ANNE SEXTON”
“Knucklebone” provides such a chilling end to the poem.
Agreed – that word is very key and visceral. Good stuff.
I love her. I love “Her Kind” which I found on You Tube. In a way, I believe she is the most influential poet of my generation. Ok, many would argue Frost, Spicer, Pound, but as for the visceral hook into poetry, it belongs to Anne.
Thanks you for reminding me of my roots. J
If you listen to her read the poem on the YouTube clip, you’ll notice that she changes the ending. I love the possibility of the poem that continues to live, transforming itself. Thank you so much for the dedication!