“Words” by Anne Sexton

Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.

― Anne Sexton, from The Awful Rowing Toward God

7 thoughts on ““Words” by Anne Sexton

    1. If it works, Brian. It’s okay with me. “Et cetera, et cetera, et cetera . . .” That’s a line from a movie, but I can’t remember which one. I can hear the character saying it.

      I didn’t sleep well last night.

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      1. I was thinking of all the times I’ve heard writers and teachers tell me that poetry is about working hard to choose the precise word. “Etc.” seems just the opposite, unless that choice is meant to convey meaning.

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      2. Brian I think you answer your own question here.

        This is precisely a poem about words. About their power and beauty and magnitude.

        But that how often words–the right words–can fail us, leave us coming up short or fumbling blindly in the dark. Leave us flying an eagle’s body on wren wings.

        Sexton herself writes:
        “Yet often they fail me.
        I have so much I want to say,
        so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
        But the words aren’t good enough,
        the wrong ones kiss me.”

        She knows they are the wrong words kissing her, so she uses “etc.” to symbolize all she *wants* to say and express, but cannot find the right words to do so.

        In this case I think the precise word “etc” IS the perfect word…both in its symbolic wren wings and in its representation of all the situations words fail us.

        Sexton was very precise in choosing words to convey her emotion. Confessional poetry, not necessarily adherent to form or rules, but definitely strong in emotion and meaning. And very very precise.

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