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COURAGE by Anne Sexton

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Alyson Nguyen

on 19 March 2014

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Transcript of COURAGE by Anne Sexton

What is the meaning of the poem?
What is the tone of the poem?
Choose one simile or metaphor. Explain how your example demonstrates courage.
Discussion Question #1:
Discussion Question #2:
Discussion Question #4:
"The child's first step, // as awesome as an earthquake."

- Stanza 1, Lines 2-3
Sexton uses this simile to compare the similarity between a child's first step to an earthquake. Earthquakes are never planned. It's difficult to predict when one will occur. The same can be said about a child's first step. The child has never tried this before, so the consequences may include injuries. The child demonstrates courage this way because he or she might not succeed on the first attempt, so if the child persists until he or she is able to walk, this is courage. In the case of an earthquake, it's not the earthquake itself showing courage, but the victims caught in it. They must get through the devastation as quickly and safely as possible; this is courage.
Depending on how the poem is interpreted, the tone of the poem can vary. If the reader retains a negative or pessimistic feel to Sexton's writing, he or she would find that the tone is depressing and melancholy. However, if the reader concluded the poem with a positive note, he or she might find the Sexton's tone is admonishing or counsel-like.
Presented By Alyson Nguyen
By Anne Sexton
Monday, March 17, 2014
Who was Anne Sexton?
Examine the form of the poem. Where does the poet break the sentences in each stanza? Why does she format her work this way? What effect is she trying to achieve?
Discussion Question #3:
It is in the small things we see it.
The child's first step,
as awesome as an earthquake (1).
The first time you rode a bike,
wallowing up the sidewalk.
The first spanking when your heart
went on a journey all alone (2).
When they called you crybaby (3)
or poor or fatty or crazy
and made you into an alien,
you drank their acid (4)
and concealed it (5).

Later (6),
if you faced the death of bombs and bullets (7)
you did not do it with a banner,
you did it with only a hat to
cover your heart.
You did not fondle the weakness inside you
though it was there (8).
Your courage was a small coal
that you kept swallowing (9).
If your buddy saved you
and died himself in so doing,
then his courage was not courage (10),
it was love; love as simple as shaving soap.

Later (11),
if you have endured a great despair,
then you did it alone (12),
getting a transfusion from the fire (13),
picking the scabs off your heart,
then wringing it out like a sock.
Next, my kinsman, you powdered your sorrow (14),
you gave it a back rub
and then you covered it with a blanket
and after it had slept a while
it woke to the wings of the roses
and was transformed (15).

Later (16),
when you face old age and its natural conclusion (17)
your courage will still be shown in the little ways,
each spring will be a sword you'll sharpen,
those you love will live in a fever of love (18),
and you'll bargain with the calendar (19)
and at the last moment
when death opens the back door (20)
you'll put on your carpet slippers
and stride out.
Sexton breaks the sentences in each stanza after an example of courage is shown during each life event. She formats her work this way to emphasize the importance of courage and how it is present in your life. The effect Sexton is trying to achieve is there is courage is everything no matter how small or large it may be.
(1) Sexton expresses an event as small as a "child's first step" to be just as a momentous occasion as the occurrence of an earthquake.

(2) The personification "your heart...alone" allows Sexton to show that courage is present even when you endure your first spanking.

(3) Lines 8-12 can evoke the feeling of pity to the readers through Sexton's diction.

(4) "Acid" refers to insults by others.

(5) Lines 11 and 12 represents holding in or hiding the hurt received from the harsh words.

Significance of Stanza 1: The first stanza conveys the childhood stage of an individual's life where there are situations others can relate to.

Summary: There is courage in ordinary events in life.
Anne Sexton (Nov. 9, 1928 - Oct. 4, 1974) was an American poet born in Newton, Massachusetts. Sexton was known for her personal, confession-like writing. Sexton's poems had a basis of her suicidal tendencies, a long battle with depression and several other personal events with her personal life, such as dealings with her husband and children. Sexton was diagnosed and suffered from a severe mental illness for the majority of her life. It can be said that Sexton's suicidal death by carbon monoxide poisoning was caused by her constant struggle with depression and her illness (www.poemhunter.com).
(6) Later refers to a transition in time.

(7) Bombs and bullets let the reader infer that this life period is one of a soldier's.

(8) Lines 18-19 says that although you know that you are acting cowardly, you are not embracing it.

(9) However, the next two lines reveal that you are actually hiding your courage.

(10) If a fellow comrade died while saving you out in the battle field, he is not displaying courage but love.

Significance of Stanza 2: The second stanza portrays the early adulthood of a soldier. Although Stanza 1 was about actual events that happened, this stanza's uniqueness is about a possible situation that can happen.

Summary: Even soldiers display courage in simple ways. Another form for that courage is love.
(11) Another transition into another phase of life.

(12) Lines 27-28 explains someone suffering and having to go through it alone.

(13) "Transfusion from the fire" can be interpreted as the hurt you feel in your heart when you suffer. The hurt feels like a burning sensation.

(14) Lines 32-37 can be summarized as trying to relieve yourself of your sorrow by getting over it and moving on.

(15) The word "transformed" represents the sorrow leaving you.

Significance of Stanza 3: Like Stanza 2, this stanza gives the sense of a possible occurrence. The life stage in the third stanza is one of suffering, most likely in the years of a middle-aged adult..

Summary: Someone who suffers knows or has courage because he or she had to go through it and eventually recover from the suffering.
The meaning of the poem is throughout a person's lifespan, he or she will be faced with multiple situations or obstacles where courage is required in order to overcome them. However, these events do not have to be large matters. Small trivial things might be more than just "small things." It can be simple, but its impact is a challenge. Courage is needed in one's life because life itself is a constant struggle with its ups and downs.
(16) This is the finally transition. It is also the final stages of a person's life.

(17) "Natural conclusion" is Sexton's interpretation of death.

(18) Because you're afraid of dying, you tend to show great affection towards loved ones.

(19) Fighting to live another day.

(20) You are complying with the fact that it's your time to leave the face of the earth.

Significance of Stanza 4: The last stanza Sexton writes is similar to the first stanza. Death is something everyone will eventually have to go through.

Summary: Accepting the reality of death or dying takes courage.
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