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Some Foreign Letters Analysis



Author: poem of Anne Sexton Type: poem Views: 2

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I knew you forever and you were always old,


soft white lady of my heart. Surely you would scold


me for sitting up late, reading your letters,


as if these foreign postmarks were meant for me.


You posted them first in London, wearing furs


and a new dress in the winter of eighteen-ninety.


I read how London is dull on Lord Mayor's Day,


where you guided past groups of robbers, the sad holes


of Whitechapel, clutching your pocketbook, on the way


to Jack the Ripper dissecting his famous bones.


This Wednesday in Berlin, you say, you will


go to a bazaar at Bismarck's house. And I


see you as a young girl in a good world still,


writing three generations before mine. I try


to reach into your page and breathe it back...


but life is a trick, life is a kitten in a sack.

This is the sack of time your death vacates.


How distant your are on your nickel-plated skates


in the skating park in Berlin, gliding past


me with your Count, while a military band


plays a Strauss waltz. I loved you last,


a pleated old lady with a crooked hand.


Once you read Lohengrin and every goose


hung high while you practiced castle life


in Hanover. Tonight your letters reduce


history to a guess. The count had a wife.


You were the old maid aunt who lived with us.


Tonight I read how the winter howled around


the towers of Schloss Schwobber, how the tedious


language grew in your jaw, how you loved the sound


of the music of the rats tapping on the stone


floors. When you were mine you wore an earphone.

This is Wednesday, May 9th, near Lucerne,


Switzerland, sixty-nine years ago. I learn


your first climb up Mount San Salvatore;


this is the rocky path, the hole in your shoes,


the yankee girl, the iron interior


of her sweet body. You let the Count choose


your next climb. You went together, armed


with alpine stocks, with ham sandwiches


and seltzer wasser. You were not alarmed


by the thick woods of briars and bushes,


nor the rugged cliff, nor the first vertigo


up over Lake Lucerne. The Count sweated


with his coat off as you waded through top snow.


He held your hand and kissed you. You rattled


down on the train to catch a steam boat for home;


or other postmarks: Paris, verona, Rome.

This is Italy. You learn its mother tongue.


I read how you walked on the Palatine among


the ruins of the palace of the Caesars;


alone in the Roman autumn, alone since July.


When you were mine they wrapped you out of here


with your best hat over your face. I cried


because I was seventeen. I am older now.


I read how your student ticket admitted you


into the private chapel of the Vatican and how


you cheered with the others, as we used to do


on the fourth of July. One Wednesday in November


you watched a balloon, painted like a silver abll,


float up over the Forum, up over the lost emperors,


to shiver its little modern cage in an occasional


breeze. You worked your New England conscience out


beside artisans, chestnut vendors and the devout.

Tonight I will learn to love you twice;


learn your first days, your mid-Victorian face.


Tonight I will speak up and interrupt


your letters, warning you that wars are coming,


that the Count will die, that you will accept


your America back to live like a prim thing


on the farm in Maine. I tell you, you will come


here, to the suburbs of Boston, to see the blue-nose


world go drunk each night, to see the handsome


children jitterbug, to feel your left ear close


one Friday at Symphony. And I tell you,


you will tip your boot feet out of that hall,


rocking from its sour sound, out onto


the crowded street, letting your spectacles fall


and your hair net tangle as you stop passers-by


to mumble your guilty love while your ears die.






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