Wait Mister. Which way is home?
They turned the light out
and the dark is moving in the corner.
There are no sign posts in this room,
four ladies, over eighty,
in diapers every one of them.
La la la, Oh music swims back to me
and I can feel the tune they played
the night they left me
in this private institution on a hill.

Imagine it. A radio playing
and everyone here was crazy.
I liked it and danced in a circle.
Music pours over the sense
and in a funny way
music sees more than I.
I mean it remembers better;
remembers the first night here.
It was the strangled cold of November;
even the stars were strapped in the sky
and that moon too bright
forking through the bars to stick me
with a singing in the head.
I have forgotten all the rest.

They lock me in this chair at eight a.m.
and there are no signs to tell the way,
just the radio beating to itself
and the song that remembers
more than I. Oh, la la la,
this music swims back to me.
The night I came I danced a circle
and was not afraid.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Anne Sexton's poem Music Swims Back To Me


  1. Adam Gumba says:

    What’s best literary theory to understand this poem?

  2. hugh prestwood says:

    In case anyone is interested, this poem (which I love) was the inspiration for a song I wrote called “The Song Remembers When”, recorded by Trisha Yearwood. Both the poem and the song are reflections on how a song can, quite powerfully, trigger memories.

  3. Alex says:

    Anne Sexton’s poetry is unbelievably intriging. You feel as if you are sucked into the poetry and experience the situation as it is happening. She speaks so boldly about things everyone wants to talk about but is either embarressed or ashamed they feel that way. While many people do not want to admit they have or do feel the way she did you really do. We all have experienced that lost feeling this poem describes. I love her poetry and am glad I decided to research it for a paper.

  4. cory says:

    this poem reminded me so much of A Beautiful Mind, I thougt it was a wonderful poem and it really sent a horrible imigine to my mind. I think everyone should take the time to read this poem, because it could hit home for anyone who has had a mental illness or knows some one who has.

  5. Allie says:

    Actually this poem is about one of her experiences in a mental institution, and yes, the chair she speaks of being locked in is probably referring to shock therapy.

  6. jill hoover says:

    Surely this poem is about electro-shock therapy.

  7. Allison Jones says:

    Very sad, but I have felt the same way at times. If we’re not in a happy place or we feel lost we find a happy secure place inside ourselves and music helps us do that. I think thats what she was saying to us.

  8. talula says:

    i’ve read a lot of poetry in my life (i am 23 years old) but anne’s “music” gave me the hardest kick i ever got. you stand there, read the lines for the first time and it is just like “oh god, i know what you’re talking about!” sounds weird but in my heart i already knew it. i fell in love with her poetry because she reminded me of my favourite singer tori amos. they are honest and talk about everything – and the most of it isn’t very beautiful. but if want truth you will find it in anne’s poems. in my opinion she isn’t jumping from topic to topic, she just describes what she sees and feels – on the one hand she’s “in the right house” but on the other hand she asks “which way is home?” where do we belong? i also love the “music swims back”-part because it’s something safe in the whole emotional chaos. you can imagine how she’s smiling while she walks through her memories. oh, i could write thousand words about the beauty of this poem. jeff, my advice to you: read “ringing the bells” (also a “bedlam” poem), it has the same topic. okay, i must leave now. anne sexon rules! 🙂 bye, talula (sorry for my bad english)

  9. Jeff C. says:

    I just found it confusing. maybe i just dont think the same way or analize the same way as you but it just seemed too jumpy from topi to topic. overall i give it a 7 out of 10. oh ya, i get to be first. the first time i am first in anything.

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