The Truth the Dead Know

By Anne Sexton 1928–1974 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 their 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, “The Truth the Dead Know” from The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Boston: Houghton Mifflin, 1981). Copyright © 1981 by Linda Gray Sexton and Loring Conant, Jr. Reprinted with the permission of Sterling Lord Literistic, Inc.

Source: The Complete Poems of Anne Sexton (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 1981)

Discover this poem’s context and related poetry, articles, and media.

Poet Anne Sexton 1928–1974

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Family & Ancestors, Death, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Relationships, Nature

Occasions Funerals

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

 Anne  Sexton

Biography

Much of Anne Sexton's poetry is autobiographical and concentrates on her deeply personal feelings, especially anguish. In particular, many of her poems record her battles with mental illness. She spent many years in psychoanalysis, including several long stays in mental hospitals. As she told Beatrice Berg, her writing began, in fact, as therapy: "My analyst told me to write between our sessions about what I was feeling and . . .

Continue reading this biography

Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Family & Ancestors, Death, Seas, Rivers, & Streams, Living, Relationships, Nature

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Rhymed Stanza, Confessional

Report a problem with this poem

Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

This poem has learning resources.

This poem is good for children.

This poem has related video.

This poem has related audio.