It is in the small things we see it.
The child’s first step,
as awesome as an earthquake.
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone.
When they called you crybaby
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid
and concealed it.

if you faced the death of bombs and bullets
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
comver your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there.
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing.
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage,
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone,
getting a transfusion from the fire,
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow,
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed.

when you face old age and its natural conclusion
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you’ll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love,
and you’ll bargain with the calendar
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door
you’ll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.

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


  1. Madie says:

    ummm, to answere the question below me, Sexton is saying that there is courage needed for every part of your life, but the most courage is needed when you face your death. Maybe she is saying that she doesnt have enough courage yet to face it herself and wishes that she did so she could put herself out of her own misery

  2. Mike Hunt says:

    uhhh, how can someone that kills herself talk about courage in daily life?

  3. jimee says:

    Life…..there is so much and its hardly easy. Sexton is real and open to the truth of it all. I do believe it takes courage to go through life and more than that grow from what you’ve learned. Courage doesn’t have to mean saving a life(Sexton refered to that as love), but a small step forward.”To keep on….” through life’s journey and its many steps and expieriences until you’ve grown old and gained the courage to face your inevitable dealth. To be able to look back on your time on earth and thank God for giving you that gift, hoping you spent it well and without regret.

  4. Marc says:

    i would like to state i totally agree with jennifer…
    I think she nailed it right on the head almost… but then again a poem is left to anyones intepretation. Not that any of you are wrong… but i disagree with pretty much all of those analysis

  5. Cassie says:

    to “Anne S.” from United States. It is a shame that you should have such disrespect for such an amazing author as to say something so inappropriate. Anne Sexton died in 1974 when she commited suicide after a battle with mental illness. This is a beautiful poem and i am sorry you are too immature to appreciate it.

  6. yolanda says:

    i agree with jennifer totally from the U.S. and i’m only 16

  7. katherine kayla says:

    i read courage as the courage to endure the pain inflicted by everyday struggles which are magnified when seen through the unforgiving shades of depression in silence. i see intense fear and anxiety especially in the comparison of a child’s first step to a an earthquake, the random nature of human nature can be quite intimidating and do much to crack our very foundation. swallowing courage like a coal, a lump in your throat that won’t quite go down, you share your pain w/none but yourself (and your trusty pen). love as simple as shaving soap, its needed so you won’t cut (hurt) yourself yet it is not the soap but your own steady hand which does the ShAVING.

  8. Confused Student says:

    sweeettttt!!!! This poem doesnt mean anything! All its talking about how Anne Sexton is depressed. I mean… how many lines can you really write about courage!

  9. Emma says:

    To me, this poem is about a strange relationship between courage, living, and dying.

    To live within society you have to be brave. You have to be brave beacuse society probably won’t accept you (fatty, poor, ect) and beacuse it has expectations of you (facing bombs and bullets). But each act of bravery is a small step of suicide.(acid, coals, sword) Youv’e got to kill yourself to live. (not literally, of course)

  10. donna says:

    What a shame to express some idea that connects so well to what others feel and then to disown the talent.

  11. Anne S. says:

    Hello everyone..just to address all the people who are trying to analyze my poem here, i was totally high when I wrote this and it really does not mean anything at all.

  12. Jennifer says:

    I liked this poem. There is so much to it. The transition flows smoothly from childhood to death. It is also symbolic. I did not get some of the expressions that Anne Sexton used in the poem. According to other comments, this poem can obviously be interpreted many, different ways. Although I think courage is one of the main themes or ideas, I still think there are other themes like bravery, death and others. I have more that I can say but i’ll conclude for now.

  13. Sarah says:

    this poem was emailed to me by a very dear friend of mine, and when I read this poem it made me feel that no matter how small something is we do, it’s the most important things we can do especially if we have courage, which in my opinion means hope, hope in the decisins we make and hope we make the right ones.

  14. johnny says:

    i think that this poem is a wonderful peice of paper

  15. Brenda says:

    I strongly believe that this poem speaks of how Sexton saw courage…I am convinced that she saw courage as a normal part of life when she states “your courage will still be shown in the little ways.” This is also apparent throughout the entire poem as she continuously mentions that in every aspect of life we swallow coal and when she says that “You did not fondle the weakness inside you, though it was there” because everyone has weakness, and we don’t see it or cunsult with it, we just make it another part of our lives, as to move forward in life, and even near death as old age, we aren’t afraid of death… This poem merely tells me that she believed that courage, although important, isn’t what all people see it as, or as brave…like a typical hero sort of thing…I happen to agree, but not when it comes to someone who is shy…speaking mainly of those who do become alienated….thus end in suicide…which literally have the upper hand in what courage really is…=)
    (in my perspective anyways)…
    Not that suicide is the best answer…
    She also spoke of “Acid.” To consume this is to hurt yourself…because no one can hurt you without your consent. I also believe that is a quote by Lady Roosevelt….almost sure of it…but not exactly in those words…

    Overall I happen to love this poem…and I agree with is…so far…

  16. Dan E. says:

    The second stanza means the most to me. It faces the problems in life that everyone has, no matter what their age is. “bombs and bullets” are big secrets that you keep to yourself, you don’t put it on “a banner”. ‘The weekness’, that everyone always has is covered by your lack of ‘courage’, that you keep swallowing. And your friends death is reall your own suicide, even if you don’t accomplish it(like Anne Sexton herself).

  17. Bill says:

    Bob thinks that this poem was authored by an anorexic being, she thinks it’s dumb and that it should not be good.

  18. Kelsey says:

    This poem is an great example of how you should not be afraid to stand up to death, but to build courage at a younge age and be strong willed in life itself!

  19. steve says:

    i really like this poem. It is symbolic to many people’s lives today in the world. People get made fun of, they “feed” off that, and in the end, turn out of be stronger mentally.

  20. Jazmin Simmons says:

    This poem is about gaining courage as you get older.Like in the first stanza it says” The child’s first step,
    as awesome as an earthquake…or poor or fatty or crazy
    and made you into an alien,
    you drank their acid
    and concealed it.”
    meaning they called you all sorts of names but you took it in and conceald started to build courage at a younge age.
    At the end it says “when death opens the back door
    you’ll put on your carpet slippers
    and stride out.”
    meaning one is willing to stand up to death and not be afraid.

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