For My Lover, Returning To His Wife

She is all there.
She was melted carefully down for you
and cast up from your childhood,
cast up from your one hundred favorite aggies.
She has always been there, my darling.
She is, in fact, exquisite.
Fireworks in the dull middle of February
and as real as a cast-iron pot.
Let’s face it, I have been momentary.
vA luxury. A bright red sloop in the harbor.
My hair rising like smoke from the car window.
Littleneck clams out of season.
She is more than that. She is your have to have,
has grown you your practical your tropical growth.
This is not an experiment. She is all harmony.
She sees to oars and oarlocks for the dinghy,
has placed wild flowers at the window at breakfast,
sat by the potter’s wheel at midday,
set forth three children under the moon,
three cherubs drawn by Michelangelo,
done this with her legs spread out
in the terrible months in the chapel.
If you glance up, the children are there
like delicate balloons resting on the ceiling.
She has also carried each one down the hall
after supper, their heads privately bent,
two legs protesting, person to person,
her face flushed with a song and their little sleep.
I give you back your heart.
I give you permission —
for the fuse inside her, throbbing
angrily in the dirt, for the bitch in her
and the burying of her wound —
for the burying of her small red wound alive —
for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,
for the drunken sailor who waits in her left pulse,
for the mother’s knee, for the stocking,
for the garter belt, for the call —
the curious call
when you will burrow in arms and breasts
and tug at the orange ribbon in her hair
and answer the call, the curious call.
She is so naked and singular
She is the sum of yourself and your dream.
Climb her like a monument, step after step.
She is solid.
As for me, I am a watercolor.
I wash off.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem For My Lover, Returning To His Wife


  1. jason n.labastida says:

    hi,this poem is one of the most interesting poem i ever read.for me,it gives an emphases on how the persona of the poem gave so much value to the sacred sacrament that bind the two life as husband and wife.The persona only apply the sayings….”love is selfless….it is setting someone free for the sake of his\her happiness.

  2. Andria says:

    I saw on another site that this poem was about the author lacking self-confidence and the husband being weak. I disagree. I believe this poem has nothing to do with an inability to keep a lover or low self-confidence. Nor do I believe that it shifts blame onto the husband or implies a weakness on his part. Anne Sexton, in this poem, is showing the different roles between the mistress and the wife. The wife is the person to whom the husband goes home…the woman who takes care of him, who bore his children and cares for them, who ultimately holds his heart. The mistress is simply a fleeting luxury…someone who will not be there forever. In this poem, she removes herself from the equation and gives the husband permission to solely care for his wife. “I am a watercolor. I wash off” doesn’t refer to a lack of self-confidence, it refers to the temporary nature of being a mistress.

  3. vivaladani says:

    This is one of my favorite poems. It exhalts and vilifies the wife, while through cynicism, it raises the mistress even higher. The mistress doesn’t refer to herself as a bitch or pawn. She thinks that she is a rare (momentary) pleasure and that knowing her is truly a privilege. Would anyone dare to demean Cezanne or Van Gogh?

  4. Ambies says:

    And the mods are the Gestapo.

  5. Amanda says:

    This was the first poem that got me interested in Anne Sexton & she is my favorite poet by far. I love the line “for the pale flickering flare under her ribs,” it evokes such beautiful imagery.

  6. julia says:

    Don’t you women wonder what that woman sleeps in or what parfume she wears? This poem brings about all the emotions that the other woman feels and even if it doesn’t end should you give your lover back?

  7. Emma says:

    I am curently involved in affair with a married man and three children. Although I feel that there is no emotional interest invested in the relationship I often wonder about their day to day lives as husband and wife. Does she ever suspect that I am there, a trollop, lurking in the shadows? When this ends and my lover returns will I simply become watercolor washing off a page?

  8. Terry Gourlay says:

    All I can say in my clumsy way is,you must have been there.Console yourself that he like me is reaping his reward,every day,when he looks at the Moon coming up above the Horizon,he thinks of you,and know that the precious times he spent with you,are all that brightens his lonely future.I feel for you,Terry.

  9. Faye says:

    This poem touches me to the very core. No matter what kind of women you are a faithful wife, or a permiscous adulterer, you will never be able to please. Society has created such a skewed view of women that has in turn created a group of men with un-fulfillable desires. I know this is stereotypical thinking, and there are exceptions, but I imagine every women feels like the women in the poem at some time in her life.

  10. anna says:

    This is an extraordinary poem; for me it so powerfully describes the feelings of the other woman towards an unknown, unseen wife and all the hurt bound up in this strange relationship. It also asks the question of the guy involved ‘what did you really want from me?’

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