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Poetry by Heart: “Just Once” by Anne Sexton

October 30, 2014

As some of you mentioned curiousity about my new poetry memorising plans, and as I promised myself I’d post three days a week but find myself typed out today, I thought I’d share the first poem I decided to learn.

“Just Once” by Anne Sexton

Just once I knew what life was for.
In Boston, quite suddenly, I understood;
walked there along the Charles River,
watched the lights copying themselves,
all neoned and strobe-hearted, opening
their mouths as wide as opera singers;
counted the stars, my little campaigners,
my scar daisies, and knew that I walked my love
on the night green side of it and cried
my heart to the eastbound cars and cried
my heart to the westbound cars and took
my truth across a small humped bridge
and hurried my truth, the charm of it, home
and hoarded these constants into morning
only to find them gone.


My own small bridge, if not quite humped.

I’ve loved this one since college, but it’s funny how memorising it changed my relationship to the words. For some reason, I’d always imagined the cars as train boxcars, likely because I went to college in a town with a lot of railroads and trains, but as I repeated the lines to myself, I realised that of course they were likely just cars.

I also memorised a couple bits of Mary Oliver poems; I’m sure I’ll get to entire works of hers soon (she’s one of my favourites & I have one of her volumes on my bedside table), but there are a few lines that have stuck with me, so I thought it was best to get them right.

The first one is quite well known, the opening lines of “Wild Geese”. I find them such a comfort, and always hear them spoken in a terribly loving way.

You do not have to be good.
You do not have to walk on your knees
For a hundred miles through the desert, repenting.
You only have to let the soft animal of your body
love what it loves.

P1130570The other is the conclusion of “In Blackwater Woods,” which I first read last December. Since I read it, I think of these lines when Thistle is snuggled against me.

To live in this world

you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

9 Comments leave one →
  1. queenofthepark permalink
    October 31, 2014 1:50 am

    Oh Eva!! The lines from Blackwater Woods are so moving. So profound and bringing me to tears. This is a special post and very rich for your readers. You have changed the colour of my day, reminding me to turn more often to poetry.

    • November 2, 2014 5:00 pm

      Oh I’m so glad you liked it. Aren’t those lines just incredible?

  2. October 31, 2014 10:52 am

    I love that you are doing this!

  3. October 31, 2014 3:14 pm

    The final lines from “In Blackwater Woods” were just what I needed to read today. Thank you :)

  4. November 2, 2014 3:31 am

    Beautiful poems, Eva! I loved the passages from Mary Oliver’s poems that you have quoted. So beautiful! She is one of my favourite poets.

    • November 2, 2014 5:01 pm

      She’s one of my favourites too! Who are your other favourites? Or have I asked you that before?


  1. Poetry for Life Scholarship Winner: Leah Kovitch -

Thank you for commenting! For a long while, my health precluded me replying to everyone. Yet I missed the conversation, so I'm now making an effort to reply again. It might take a few days though, and there will be times when I simply can't. Regardless, I always read and value what you say.

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