'Rapunzel' by Anne Sexton

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TransformationsA womanwho loves a womanis forever young.The mentorand the studentfeed off each other.Many a girlhad an old auntwho locked her in the studyto keep the boys away.They would play rummyor lie on the couchand touch and touch.Old breast against young breast...Let your dress fall down your shoulder,come touch a copy of youfor I am at the mercy of rain,for I have left the three Christs of Ypsilantifor I have left the long naps of Ann Arborand the church spires have turned to stumps.The sea bangs into my cloisterfor the politicians are dying,and dying so hold me, my young dear,hold me...The yellow rose will turn to cinderand New York City will fall inbefore we are done so hold me,my young dear, hold me.Put your pale arms around my neck.Let me hold your heart like a flowerlest it bloom and collapse.Give me your skinas sheer as a cobweb,let me open it upand listen in and scoop out the dark.Give me your nether lipsall puffy with their artand I will give you angel fire in return.We are two cloudsglistening in the bottle galss.We are two birdswashing in the same mirror.We were fair gamebut we have kept out of the cesspool.We are strong.We are the good ones.Do not discover usfor we lie together all in greenlike pond weeds.Hold me, my young dear, hold me.They touch their delicate watchesone at a time.They dance to the lutetwo at a time.They are as tender as bog moss.They play mother-me-doall day.A womanwho loves a womanis forever young.Once there was a witch's gardenmore beautiful than Eve'swith carrots growing like little fish,with many tomatoes rich as frogs,onions as ingrown as hearts,the squash singing like a dolphinand one patch given over wholly to magic --rampion, a kind of salad roota kind of harebell more potent than penicillin,growing leaf by leaf, skin by skin.as rapt and as fluid as Isadoran Duncan.However the witch's garden was kept lockedand each day a woman who was with childlooked upon the rampion wildly,fancying that she would dieif she could not have it.Her husband feared for her welfareand thus climbed into the gardento fetch the life-giving tubers.Ah ha, cried the witch,whose proper name was Mother Gothel,you are a thief and now you will die.However they made a trade,typical enough in those times.He promised his child to Mother Gothelso of course when it was bornshe took the child away with her.She gave the child the name Rapunzel,another name for the life-giving rampion.Because Rapunzel was a beautiful girlMother Gothel treasured her beyond all things.As she grew older Mother Gothel thought:None but I will ever see her or touch her.She locked her in a tow without a dooror a staircase. It had only a high window.When the witch wanted to enter she cried"Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair.Rapunzel's hair fell to the ground like a rainbow.It was as strong as a dandelionand as strong as a dog leash.Hand over hand she shinnied upthe hair like a sailorand there in the stone-cold room,as cold as a museum,Mother Gothel cried:Hold me, my young dear, hold me,and thus they played mother-me-do.Years later a prince came byand heard Rapunzel singing her loneliness.That song pierced his heart like a valentinebut he could find no way to get to her.Like a chameleon he hid himself among the treesand watched the witch ascend the swinging hair.The next day he himself called out:Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair,and thus they met and he declared his love.What is this beast, she thought,with muscles on his armslike a bag of snakes?What is this moss on his legs?What prickly plant grows on his cheeks?What is this voice as deep as a dog?Yet he dazzled her with his answers.Yet he dazzled her with his dancing stick.They lay together upon the yellowy threads,swimming through themlike minnows through kelpand they sang out benedictions like the Pope.Each day he brought her a skein of silkto fashion a ladder so they could both escape.But Mother Gothel discovered the plotand cut off Rapunzel's hair to her earsand took her into the forest to repent.When the prince came the witch fastenedthe hair to a hook and let it down.When he saw Rapunzel had been banishedhe flung himself out of the tower, a side of beef.He was blinded by thorns that prickled him like tacks.As blind as Oedipus he wandered for yearsuntil he heard a song that pierced his heartlike that long-ago valentine.As he kissed Rapunzel her tears fell on his eyesand in the manner of such cure-allshis sight was suddenly restored.They lived happily as you might expectproving that mother-me-docan be outgrown,just as the fish on Friday,just as a tricycle.The world, some say,is made up of couples.A rose must have a stem.As for Mother Gothel,her heart shrank to the size of a pin,never again to say: Hold me, my young dear,hold me,and only as she dreamed of the yellow hairdid moonlight sift into her mouth.

Editor 1 Interpretation

Rapunzel by Anne Sexton

Rapunzel is a poem by the American poet Anne Sexton. The poem tells the story of Rapunzel, a young woman who is trapped in a tower by a wicked witch, and is ultimately rescued by a prince. The poem is a retelling of the classic fairy tale, but it is also a commentary on the role of women in society, and the power dynamics that govern relationships.

In this literary criticism and interpretation, we will analyze and explore the various themes, symbols, and motifs that are present in Rapunzel. We will also examine the language and form of the poem, and the ways in which Sexton uses these to convey her message.


One of the central themes of Rapunzel is the idea of imprisonment. Rapunzel is trapped in a tower by a wicked witch, and is unable to leave. She is isolated from the outside world, and has no contact with other people. This imprisonment is a metaphor for the way in which women are often trapped in traditional gender roles, and are unable to break free from societal expectations.

Another theme that is present in the poem is the idea of power dynamics. The witch holds power over Rapunzel, and is able to control her actions. The prince, on the other hand, holds power over the witch, and is able to rescue Rapunzel. This power dynamic is a reflection of the way in which power is often unequally distributed in relationships between men and women.

Symbols and Motifs

One of the most prominent symbols in the poem is the tower. The tower represents the isolation and imprisonment that Rapunzel experiences. It is a physical manifestation of the barriers that prevent women from achieving their full potential.

Another symbol that is present in the poem is the witch. The witch represents the oppressive forces that keep women trapped in traditional gender roles. She is a symbol of the societal expectations that women are expected to conform to, and the ways in which these expectations limit their freedom and autonomy.

The motif of hair is also significant in the poem. Rapunzel's long hair is a symbol of her beauty and femininity, but it is also a symbol of her entrapment. Her hair is what the prince uses to climb up to the tower and rescue her, but it is also what the witch uses to control her.

Language and Form

Sexton's use of language and form in Rapunzel is striking. The poem is written in free verse, which allows Sexton to experiment with different rhythms and cadences. The language is simple and direct, but it is also rich in symbolism and metaphor.

One of the most powerful aspects of the poem is the way in which Sexton uses repetition. The phrase "Rapunzel, Rapunzel, let down your hair" is repeated throughout the poem, and each time it is repeated, it takes on new significance. The repetition creates a sense of urgency and desperation, and emphasizes the central role that hair plays in the story.

Sexton also uses imagery to great effect in the poem. The image of Rapunzel's hair cascading down from the tower is a powerful one, and evokes a sense of both beauty and entrapment. The image of the witch cutting off Rapunzel's hair is disturbing, and emphasizes the violent and oppressive nature of the witch's control.


In conclusion, Rapunzel is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that explores the themes of imprisonment and power dynamics. Sexton's use of symbolism, motifs, language, and form all contribute to the effectiveness of the poem, and help to convey its message. The poem is a commentary on the role of women in society, and the ways in which they are often trapped in traditional gender roles. It is a reminder that we must break free from these expectations, and strive for greater equality and freedom for all.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry has the power to transport us to different worlds, to make us feel emotions we never thought possible, and to inspire us in ways we never imagined. One such poem that has stood the test of time and continues to inspire readers is Anne Sexton's "Rapunzel."

"Rapunzel" is a retelling of the classic fairy tale of the same name, but with a dark and twisted twist. Sexton's version of the story is not one of a damsel in distress waiting for a prince to rescue her, but rather a story of a woman who takes control of her own destiny.

The poem begins with the familiar lines, "The prince leans to the girl in scarlet heels, / Her green eyes slant, hair flaring in a fan / Of silver as the rondo slows; now reels / Begin on tilted violins to span / The whole revolving tall glass palace hall / Where guests slide gliding into light like wine." However, Sexton quickly deviates from the original story by introducing the character of the witch, who is not the villain but rather a mother figure to Rapunzel.

Sexton's witch is a complex character who is not evil but rather misunderstood. She is a woman who has been hurt and betrayed by men, and as a result, she has become bitter and resentful. However, she sees something in Rapunzel that she never had, and she takes the young girl under her wing, teaching her everything she knows.

Rapunzel, in turn, becomes a strong and independent woman who is not afraid to stand up for herself. She defies the witch by falling in love with the prince and refusing to be locked away in the tower any longer. She takes control of her own destiny and makes her own choices, even if they are not what others expect of her.

Sexton's use of language in "Rapunzel" is powerful and evocative. She uses vivid imagery to paint a picture of the world she has created, from the "scarlet heels" of the girl to the "tilted violins" that play in the palace hall. Her use of repetition, such as the repeated use of the word "rondo," creates a sense of rhythm and movement that mirrors the action of the story.

The poem is also full of symbolism, from the silver hair that represents Rapunzel's purity and innocence to the glass palace that represents the fragility of the world around her. The witch's garden, with its thorns and roses, represents the duality of life and the fact that beauty and pain often go hand in hand.

One of the most striking aspects of "Rapunzel" is the way in which Sexton subverts the traditional gender roles of the fairy tale. In the original story, Rapunzel is a passive character who waits for the prince to rescue her. However, in Sexton's version, Rapunzel is a strong and independent woman who takes control of her own destiny.

This is particularly evident in the final stanza of the poem, where Rapunzel says, "I will be my own / swan; you be the one / to help me down." This line is a powerful statement of independence and self-reliance, and it shows that Rapunzel is not willing to rely on anyone else to save her.

Overall, "Rapunzel" is a powerful and thought-provoking poem that challenges our preconceptions about gender roles and the nature of fairy tales. Sexton's use of language and symbolism creates a vivid and evocative world that draws the reader in and leaves them thinking long after the poem is finished.

In conclusion, "Rapunzel" is a masterpiece of modern poetry that continues to inspire readers today. It is a testament to the power of language and the enduring appeal of fairy tales, and it is a reminder that sometimes the most powerful stories are the ones that challenge our expectations and make us see the world in a new way.

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