With Mercy for the Greedy

By Anne Sexton 1928–1974 Anne Sexton

For my friend, Ruth, who urges me to make an appointment for the Sacrament of Confession

Concerning your letter in which you ask   
me to call a priest and in which you ask   
me to wear The Cross that you enclose;   
your own cross,
your dog-bitten cross,
no larger than a thumb,
small and wooden, no thorns, this rose—

I pray to its shadow,
that gray place
where it lies on your letter ... deep, deep.
I detest my sins and I try to believe
in The Cross. I touch its tender hips, its dark jawed face,   
its solid neck, its brown sleep.

True. There is
a beautiful Jesus.
He is frozen to his bones like a chunk of beef.
How desperately he wanted to pull his arms in!
How desperately I touch his vertical and horizontal axes!   
But I can’t. Need is not quite belief.

All morning long   
I have worn
your cross, hung with package string around my throat.   
It tapped me lightly as a child’s heart might,
tapping secondhand, softly waiting to be born.   
Ruth, I cherish the letter you wrote.

My friend, my friend, I was born   
doing reference work in sin, and born   
confessing it. This is what poems are:   
with mercy
for the greedy,
they are the tongue’s wrangle,
the world's pottage, the rat's star.

Anne Sexton, “With Mercy for the Greedy” 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)

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Poet Anne Sexton 1928–1974

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Subjects Friends & Enemies, Religion, Relationships

Poetic Terms 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 . . .

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Poem Categorization

SUBJECT Friends & Enemies, Religion, Relationships

SCHOOL / PERIOD Confessional

Poetic Terms Confessional

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Originally appeared in Poetry magazine.

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