Poetry by Heart: “Just Once” by Anne Sexton
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.
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.
The 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.