A story, a story!
(Let it go. Let it come.)
I was stamped out like a Plymouth fender
into this world.
First came the crib
with its glacial bars.
Then dolls
and the devotion to their plactic mouths.
Then there was school,
the little straight rows of chairs,
blotting my name over and over,
but undersea all the time,
a stranger whose elbows wouldn’t work.
Then there was life
with its cruel houses
and people who seldom touched-
though touch is all-
but I grew,
like a pig in a trenchcoat I grew,
and then there were many strange apparitions,
the nagging rain, the sun turning into poison
and all of that, saws working through my heart,
but I grew, I grew,
and God was there like an island I had not rowed to,
still ignorant of Him, my arms, and my legs worked,
and I grew, I grew,
I wore rubies and bought tomatoes
and now, in my middle age,
about nineteen in the head I’d say,
I am rowing, I am rowing
though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
and the sea blinks and rolls
like a worried eyebal,
but I am rowing, I am rowing,
though the wind pushes me back
and I know that that island will not be perfect,
it will have the flaws of life,
the absurdities of the dinner table,
but there will be a door
and I will open it
and I will get rid of the rat insdie me,
the gnawing pestilential rat.
God will take it with his two hands
and embrace it.

As the African says:
This is my tale which I have told,
if it be sweet, if it be not sweet,
take somewhere else and let some return to me.
This story ends with me still rowing.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Rowing


  1. Adrian Cho says:

    “and now, in my middle age,
    about nineteen in the head I’d say,
    I am rowing, I am rowing
    though the oarlocks stick and are rusty
    and the sea blinks and rolls
    like a worried eyeball,
    but I am rowing, I am rowing”

    The song-writer Townes Van Zandt wrote, “You cannot count the miles until you feel them.” In just the same way, you cannot really appreciate this passage until you’ve reached your middle years. It’s one of the passages that’s etched in my mind.

  2. Scott Swearingen says:

    In poems, most of all, each word counts. So, two errors in the text of “Rowing” should be noted, if not corrected. The dolls have “plastic” mouths, not “plactic”. I learned this from listening to a recording of Anne Sexton reading the poem. And a simple misspelling of “inside” towards the end is careless and an affront to a beautiful and haunting poem. To be fair, the “plactic/plastic” error is on several other sites. The poem still works in spite of these errors.

  3. Hamed Haeri says:

    This poem to me describes how man is born and grown and what he/she faces as growing materializes. Many poets from other cultures have depicted the same verses in their own language though with a bit of variation. My self being Iranian have soptted 2 poems. One from Ahamd Shamloo named “The beginning” and the other by Esmail Shahroodi named “the seeds of wine”

  4. Ryan Haley says:

    I would scan this.
    I would close read this.
    I would put this poem under the fine microscope of my mid twenties and inconsistent mind,
    but it just seems right to love this from a far.

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