For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further

Not that it was beautiful,
but that, in the end, there was
a certain sense of order there;
something worth learning
in that narrow diary of my mind,
in the commonplaces of the asylum
where the cracked mirror
or my own selfish death
outstared me.
And if I tried
to give you something else,
something outside of myself,
you would not know
that the worst of anyone
can be, finally,
an accident of hope.
I tapped my own head;
it was glass, an inverted bowl.
It is a small thing
to rage in your own bowl.
At first it was private.
Then it was more than myself;
it was you, or your house
or your kitchen.
And if you turn away
because there is no lesson here
I will hold my awkward bowl,
with all its cracked stars shining
like a complicated lie,
and fasten a new skin around it
as if I were dressing an orange
or a strange sun.
Not that it was beautiful,
but that I found some order there.
There ought to be something special
for someone
in this kind of hope.
This is something I would never find
in a lovelier place, my dear,
although your fear is anyone’s fear,
like an invisible veil between us all…
and sometimes in private,
my kitchen, your kitchen,
my face, your face.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem For John, Who Begs Me Not To Enquire Further


  1. ed bell says:

    There is a typo in this line: “it was >a< glass, an inverted bowl."
    The line is: "it was glass, an inverted bowl."

  2. Abdullah Patterson says:

    Colombia’s vice president is “baffled” by Kate Moss’s success following cocaine allegations…

  3. Derek says:

    Yes, it is about John Holmes, according to Diane Wood Middlebrooke’s excellent biography of Anne Sexton.

  4. esther says:

    I may be wrong but I think this poem was directed at John Holmes, whose workshop Anne Sexton participated in. The story goes that he made the comment that Anne should no longer write about insanity, incest, bodily functions, masturbation, abortion suicide and all of the rest of Sexton good stuff.
    I have a love-hate attachment to Anne Sexton’s work. At times I think she doesn’t stretch “inquire” enough and at other times she stretches or tries too hard to find the most impossible and at times grossest metaphors. But she always has a humanness, and lesion. This humanness and lesion can be found in confessional poetry as well as fanatical. The bottom line is the woman can write.
    I think this is one of Sexton’s best poems.

  5. Colleen Marshall says:

    This is a puzzling poem because we do not know who John. Is she addressing the male patriarchy or another aspect of herself or a real John? Written from the context of an assylum her desparation is felt with unconvincing reference to hope and re-invention of herself ‘sheath around the glass bowl’ the glass bowl does not allow for private thoughts..exposes her..the mirror reflects…order creates hope

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