Be careful of words,
even the miraculous ones.
For the miraculous we do our best,
sometimes they swarm like insects
and leave not a sting but a kiss.
They can be as good as fingers.
They can be as trusty as the rock
you stick your bottom on.
But they can be both daisies and bruises.
Yet I am in love with words.
They are doves falling out of the ceiling.
They are six holy oranges sitting in my lap.
They are the trees, the legs of summer,
and the sun, its passionate face.
Yet often they fail me.
I have so much I want to say,
so many stories, images, proverbs, etc.
But the words aren’t good enough,
the wrong ones kiss me.
Sometimes I fly like an eagle
but with the wings of a wren.
But I try to take care
and be gentle to them.
Words and eggs must be handled with care.
Once broken they are impossible
things to repair.

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


  1. amber says:

    Kristie, this is clearly a well thought out interpretation and there may very well be truth to it on some level–poetry is objective, after all, and usually multi-layered despite authorial intent. However, I really just must say that this explication entirely misses the most obvious meaning of the poem! She is examining the sometimes excruciating writing process. Sometimes it pays off and one creates a beautiful piece of work, but sometimes it does not–but in either case, whether or not one is producing anything of quality at the time, the urge to write–all of the thoughts that cloud and swarm the brain (like insects) continue to harass the writer. Every now and again the writer will receive a kiss–an enlightened idea–and this is what makes the suffering of the rest of the time worth it.
    Anything about her parents, etc.–well, again, such interpretations might have merit on some level–as in she might also happen to have a similar relationship to them as she has to her writing. But there is no good textual support to make these claims–I could just as easily argue that the whole poem is about her drive towards suicide or her troubles with being a suburban house wife, but as I wouldn’t have any solid textual support and would have to skip right over the obvious to do so, I wouldn’t make these arguments.

  2. Kristie says:

    When saying, “The joy isn’t shared dies young,” (Sexton 20) Anne Sexton pinpoints life. Those who are well nourished with joy, love, and happiness more likely live longer, healthier, lives. Studies and several accounts have shown that those who do not lead such lives face harsh futures. Anne Sexton, herself, knew and lived the painful reality of an abusive relationship growing up with her parents. Through the use of symbolism, Anne Sexton develops explains her suffering life in her poem “Words”.
    “Some times they swarm like insects, and leave not a sting but a kiss.” (L4-6) These lines intend to very powerful describe the fickle personalities of Sexton’s parents. Sexton uses the swarming insects to represent physical abuse her had to undergo. Because of the frequency of the abuse, she thought of it as a display of emotion, like a kiss would be in normal households. Symbolism can be identified within the lines, “They can be as good as fingers. They can be as trusty as the rock you stick your bottom on” (L6-8). No child wants to accept parental hostile behavior. Sexton always feared to speaking out and being abandoned by her parents. Sexton’s grandmother, whom she referred to as “Nana” was her savior. Nana helped and guided Sexton all she could, as a parent should. “But they can be both daisies and bruises,” (L9) represents Sexton’s unstable home environment. The most stable part, shown as a sweet, tranquil daisy, refers to Nana. Her parents, the bruises, not only left physically on Sexton but appeared everlasting and corruptive to her soul.
    “Yet I am in love words,” (L10) expresses the conflicting feelings of a child.
    Anne Sexton lived from 1928 to 1974, a time much different from today, where rebelling from parents under any circumstances considered wrong. Abuse cases were not brought to the attention of others and remained unspoken. Anne Sexton speaks out, expressing her pain, using the example of words, stating, “Yet often they fail me” (L15). Her parents abuse before love and fail to meet her needs. When finally she gains the courage, “I have so much I want to say, so many stories images, proverbs, but the words aren’t good enough, the wrong ones kiss me,” (L16-19) Sexton questions her decision to speak out. “Sometimes I fly like an eagle, with the wings of a wren,” expresses her eagerness to do so, but her cowardness holds her back, as wren’s wings would if it were to fly.
    The conclusion of “Words” sums up the majority of Anne Sexton’s life. An impacting life lesson was taught by her Nana, “But I try to take care and be gentle to them,” (L22-23) who made an effort to nourish her and rid her dysfunctional, abusive family. “Words and eggs must be handled with care. Once broken they are impossible things to repair,” (L25-26) explains Sexton’s advice to all readers. She compares words, or children, to eggs, which are very fragile. The image of a broken egg can be drawn and helps drive across a strong point of once broken, they can never be repaired, much like a child’s emotions.
    Anne Sexton discovered this the hard way when years of facing abusive drove her to see a therapist regularly. The death of her Nana, the only one she saw truly care for her sent Sexton over the edge. During this tragic time for Sexton, her therapist encouraged her to write, producing thousands of poems symbolic and educational for readers. Anne Sexton faced years of hardship attempting to repair the emotional scars, and burdens of her childhood, but lost her battle. She committed suicide, freeing herself from her haunting past. The lack of joy and harmony in childhood ripped Anne Sexton of a long, healthy life.

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