Free Verse

poetry which is not written in a traditional meter but is still rhythmical. The poetry of Walt Whitman is perhaps the best-known example of free verse.

The Double Image
Ann Sexton


I am thirty this November.
You are still small, in your fourth year.
We stand watching the yellow leaves go queer,
flapping in the winter rain.
falling flat and washed. And I remember
mostly the three autumns you did not live here.
They said I'd never get you back again.
I tell you what you'll never really know:
all the medical hypothesis
that explained my brain will never be as true as these
struck leaves letting go.

I, who chose two times
to kill myself, had said your nickname
the mewling mouths when you first came;
until a fever rattled
in your throat and I moved like a pantomine
above your head. Ugly angels spoke to me. The blame,
I heard them say, was mine. They tattled
like green witches in my head, letting doom
leak like a broken faucet;
as if doom had flooded my belly and filled your bassinet,
an old debt I must assume.

Death was simpler than I'd thought.
The day life made you well and whole
I let the witches take away my guilty soul.
I pretended I was dead
until the white men pumped the poison out,
putting me armless and washed through the rigamarole
of talking boxes and the electric bed.
I laughed to see the private iron in that hotel.
Today the yellow leaves
go queer. You ask me where they go I say today believed
in itself, or else it fell.

Today, my small child, Joyce,
love your self's self where it lives.
There is no special God to refer to; or if there is,
why did I let you grow
in another place. You did not know my voice
when I came back to call. All the superlatives
of tomorrow's white tree and mistletoe
will not help you know the holidays you had to miss.
The time I did not love
myself, I visited your shoveled walks; you held my glove.
There was new snow after this.


They sent me letters with news
of you and I made moccasins that I would never use.
When I grew well enough to tolerate
myself, I lived with my mother, the witches said.
But I didn't leave. I had my portrait
done instead.

Part way back from Bedlam
I came to my mother's house in Gloucester,
Massachusetts. And this is how I came
to catch at her; and this is how I lost her.
I cannot forgive your suicide, my mother said.
And she never could. She had my portrait
done instead.

I lived like an angry guest,
like a partly mended thing, an outgrown child.
I remember my mother did her best.
She took me to Boston and had my hair restyled.
Your smile is like your mother's, the artist said.
I didn't seem to care. I had my portrait
done instead.

There was a church where I grew up
with its white cupboards where they locked us up,
row by row, like puritans or shipmates
singing together. My father passed the plate.
Too late to be forgiven now, the witches said.
I wasn't exactly forgiven. They had my portrait
done instead.


All that summer sprinklers arched
over the seaside grass.
We talked of drought
while the salt-parched
field grew sweet again. To help time pass
I tried to mow the lawn
and in the morning I had my portrait done,
holding my smile in place, till it grew formal.
Once I mailed you a picture of a rabbit
and a postcard of Motif number one,
as if it were normal
to be a mother and be gone.

They hung my portrait in the chill
north light, matching
me to keep me well.
Only my mother grew ill.
She turned from me, as if death were catching,
as if death transferred,
as if my dying had eaten inside of her.
That August you were two, by I timed my days with doubt.
On the first of September she looked at me
and said I gave her cancer.
They carved her sweet hills out
and still I couldn't answer.


That winter she came
part way back
from her sterile suite
of doctors, the seasick
cruise of the X-ray,
the cells' arithmetic
gone wild. Surgery incomplete,
the fat arm, the prognosis poor, I heard
them say.

During the sea blizzards
she had here
own portrait painted.
A cave of mirror
placed on the south wall;
matching smile, matching contour.
And you resembled me; unacquainted
with my face, you wore it. But you were mine
after all.

I wintered in Boston,
childless bride,
nothing sweet to spare
with witches at my side.
I missed your babyhood,
tried a second suicide,
tried the sealed hotel a second year.
On April Fool you fooled me. We laughed and this
was good.


I checked out for the last time
on the first of May;
graduate of the mental cases,
with my analysts's okay,
my complete book of rhymes,
my typewriter and my suitcases.

All that summer I learned life
back into my own
seven rooms, visited the swan boats,
the market, answered the phone,
served cocktails as a wife
should, made love among my petticoats

and August tan. And you came each
weekend. But I lie.
You seldom came. I just pretended
you, small piglet, butterfly
girl with jelly bean cheeks,
disobedient three, my splendid

stranger. And I had to learn
why I would rather
die than love, how your innocence
would hurt and how I gather
guilt like a young intern
his symptons, his certain evidence.

That October day we went
to Gloucester the red hills
reminded me of the dry red fur fox
coat I played in as a child; stock still
like a bear or a tent,
like a great cave laughing or a red fur fox.

We drove past the hatchery,
the hut that sells bait,
past Pigeon Cove, past the Yacht Club, past Squall's
Hill, to the house that waits
still, on the top of the sea,
and two portraits hung on the opposite walls.


In north light, my smile is held in place,
the shadow marks my bone.
What could I have been dreaming as I sat there,
all of me waiting in the eyes, the zone
of the smile, the young face,
the foxes' snare.

In south light, her smile is held in place,
her cheeks wilting like a dry
orchid; my mocking mirror, my overthrown
love, my first image. She eyes me from that face
that stony head of death
I had outgrown.

The artist caught us at the turning;
we smiled in our canvas home
before we chose our foreknown separate ways.
The dry redfur fox coat was made for burning.
I rot on the wall, my own
Dorian Gray.

And this was the cave of the mirror,
that double woman who stares
at herself, as if she were petrified
in time -- two ladies sitting in umber chairs.
You kissed your grandmother
and she cried.


I could not get you back
except for weekends. You came
each time, clutching the picture of a rabbit
that I had sent you. For the last time I unpack
your things. We touch from habit.
The first visit you asked my name.
Now you will stay for good. I will forget
how we bumped away from each other like marionettes
on strings. It wasn't the same
as love, letting weekends contain
us. You scrape your knee. You learn my name,
wobbling up the sidewalk, calling and crying.
You can call me mother and I remember my mother again,
somewhere in greater Boston, dying.

I remember we named you Joyce
so we could call you Joy.
You came like an awkward guest
that first time, all wrapped and moist
and strange at my heavy breast.
I needed you. I didn't want a boy,
only a girl, a small milky mouse
of a girl, already loved, already loud in the house
of herself. We named you Joy.
I, who was never quite sure
about being a girl, needed another
life, another image to remind me.
And this was my worst guilt; you could not cure
or soothe it. I made you to find me.

Anne Sexton wrote the poem “Double Image” in free verse to emphasize the fact that the poem was telling her life story. It was her attempt to understand her strange relationship with the women of her life, focusing on how a daughter separates from her mother. The inspiration for this poem came from the fact that Sexton’s mother had a portrait painted of herself and another of her daughter, and hung them so that they were facing each other, hence the title “Double Image”.

Link: Sea Nurse

"It doesn't matter who my father was; it matters who I remember he was. "

~Ann Sexton

Ann Sexton

         Anne Harvey was born on November 9, 1928 in Weston, Mass. Growing up, Anne saw her eldest sister, Jane, become Daddy's girl, while her other sister Blanche, became reknown as the smart one of the three, loving to read and the only one to go to college.  Her parents moving to Wellesley, Mass., Anne attended public schools from the time she was 6 until she was 17.  At the age of 17, her parents sent her off to Rogers Hall, a preparatory school for girls, in Lowell, Mass.; hoping to 'cure' her of her wild nature and shape her into a proper woman.  It was here that Anne first began to write poetry, which was published in the school yearbook.  Yet shortly after beginning the call she had, her mother, who had come from a family of writers, accused Anne of plagiarism, disbelieving that her daughter could posess the talent to write such lovely poetry. 

          Continuing on with the refinement of her womanhood, Anne attended the Garland School in Boston, a finishing school for women.  It was here that she met and eloped with Alfred Muller Sexton II, whom everbody called Kayo.  Kayo and Anne moved to Hamilton, New York, where Kayo was attending Colgate, University.  Unable to afford making a living and supporting a wife, Kayo decided that they should move back to Massachusetts.  Upon moving back, Anne enrolled in a modeling class at the Hart Agency, completing the course and going on to model for the agency for a short period of time.  Meanwhile, Kayo had joined the naval reserve and had been shipped out on the USS Boxer to Korea.  In 1952, Kayo came home for a year after the Boxer received war damage.  It was during this time that Anne and Kayo conceived their first child.  In July 1953, shortly after Kayo had been shipped out again, Anne gave birth to Linda Gray Sexton.  Later that year Kayo was discharged and he returned home where he and Anne purchased a home in Newton Lower Falls, Massachusetts, not far from either of their parents.

        In 1954, Anne began struggling with recurring depression and began seeking counseling.  During the time of her counseling she and Kayo gave birth to their second child, Joyce Ladd Sexton, whom they nicknamed Joy. Beginning in 1956, Annes mental condition worstened, leading up to her first psychiatric hospitalization and her first suicide attempt.  In December of that year, under the guidance of her psychiatrist, Dr. Martin, she resumed writing poetry.  Finding therapeutic value in her writing, she enrolled in John Holme's poetry workshop, where she met Maxine Kumin.  Yet falling, once again into a deep depression, Anne attempted suicide again in May, 1957.  Again hospitalized, she continued to write poetry and in August received a scholarship to Antioch Writers' Conference, where she met W. D. Snodgrass.  In 1958, Anne enrolled in Robert Lowell's graduate writing seminar at Boston University, where she met Sylvia Plath and George Starbuck.  In 1959, she was awarded the Audience Poetry Prize.  With this award Anne began work to publish the first of her books of poetry entitled To Bedlam and Part Way Back.  The publisment of this book spurred Anne to keep writing and led to national recognition of her work.  Following her first book, Anne published her second book,in 1962, entitled All My Pretty Ones.  Following the release of this work, Anne continued her success by working on four children's books with her longtime friend Maxine Kumin. 

         During the span of August 22 to October 27, 1963, Anne toured Europe on a travelling fellowship from the American Academy of Arts and Letters.  Despite enjoying the trip, Anne returned a month early due to an emotional disturbance.  Nineteen sixty-four proved to be an interesting year in Anne's clinical life as her longtime psychiatrist moved his practice to Philadelphia, and she began seeing a new psychiatrist who started Anne on the drug, Thorazine, to control her on going depression and hospitalizatizations.  In 1965, she was elected a Fellow of the Royal Society of Literature in London.  Following this award she published her Pulitzer-prize winning book entitled Live or Die, in 1966.  Continuing writing and teaching English literature at Wayland, Mass. High School, in June 1968 Anne was awarded honorary Phi Beta Kappa from Harvard becoming the first woman ever to join the 187-year-old chapter.  Beginning in 1969, Anne published her book entitled Love Poems, following this book she continued work on her play Mercy Street until the fall where she began teaching a poetry seminar at Boston University.  The success of her seminar led to her appointment as a lecturer at Boston University,in 1970 and her eventual award of full professorship, in 1972.    

         Despite her success as a writer, poet, and playwright, Anne's personal life took a sudden plunge in 1973, where she was hospitalized three times and received a divorce from her husband during the course of the year.  Surviving much of the following year, Anne managed to bring her final works to a conclusion with the publishment of The Death Notebooks, a completed final editing of The Awful Rowing Toward God, and a tentative arrangement of poems in 45 Mercy Street.  The conclusiveness of the works seemed to Anne to be a proper stopping point.  Following her last poetry reading at Goucher College in Maryland on October 3, 1974, Anne returned home to commit suicide in her garage on October 4, 1974 by way of carbon monoxide poisoning.  The tragic end she brought to her life was the result of several years of battling depression and dissatisfaction with her place in life.  Despite this truth, she carved a place in the minds and hearts of the American literary world forever.