Live now

This is an amazing audio recording of Anne Sexton reading an early version of "The Truth the Dead Know." The final two stanzas are completely different from the version that appears in All My Pretty Ones and various anthologies. Unfortunately, no date or source is given, but obviously it's prior to the publication of the collection in 1962. I've transcribed it and hope I've done justice to the punctuation. While the published version is one of my favorite Sexton poems, I almost prefer this one, especially the admonition to "live now, live now." Even her early drafts were brilliant. You can read the published version at this link for comparison. If anyone has information about the recording or this version of the poem, please share.

The Truth the Dead Know

Gone, I say and walk from church,
refusing the stiff procession to the grave,
letting the dead ride alone in the hearse.
It is June. I am tired of being brave.

We drive to the Cape. I cultivate
myself a blushing hermit in the sun
where the sea swings in like an iron gate
and I turn to you and am bright and young.

My love, the wind falls in like stones
from a white mountain and where we touch
we are twice marked and twice alone.
Men kill for this, or for as much.

And what would the dead say? What defiles
their calm eyes and their loose brows?
Not this. For through their tiny smiles
they mutter: live now, live now.


Anonymous said…
Beautiful poem.

i wish there were recordings of her reading all her work.

this rocks.
Pris said…
Thank you so much! Her work gives me chills.
Ron said…
Thanks for sharing that. And it's interesting to compare this version to the official version -- especially how the endings differ.
Liz said…
Thanks Collin, just the words I needed right now.
Barry Napier said…
Such a great poem. Thanks for finding the audio!
Anonymous said…
it was recorded 1974 so this poem is an evolved version probably because of the movement away from new criticism
Anonymous said…
Thank you so much for this adapted version. It’s my favorite poem of all time.

“And what would the dead say?

What defiles their calm eyes? And their loose brows?

Not this.

For through their tiny smiles, they mutter...

‘Live now.’

Live now.’’’

Discovered this through the amazing tune Where The Sea Swings in Like an Iron Gate by Kidnap. Well worth a listen. A superb poem and influence.

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