The scene is a sickroom in which the narrator stands at his dying sister's bed. He wishes that she could be "snatched up / to die by surprise" without ever knowing about death. The sister speaks, "I am in three parts." One is red for pain, one is yellow for exhaustion, and the other is white: "I don't know yet what white is."

The narrator stews for a while in his fears of dying, but his sister speaks again, saying that she is not afraid, but, "I just wish it didn't take so long." "Let's go home," she suddenly says, and he recalls images of their youth, and these images shuttle back and forth into the sickroom until at the end of the poem, "they ratchet the box holding / her body into the earth . . . " [79 lines]


This is a tender love poem for the poet's sister. At the beginning of the poem, her voice is strong (even dramatic), and he latches on to that voice, as if it were a talisman protecting him from loneliness and death. But Wendy's voice becomes weaker and drifts away. As her casket is lowered, he hears his sister speak again "in prolonged, even notes that swell and diminish," but the voice quickly grows faint and disappears. Perhaps in some sense the connection we have to our loved ones survives death, but, if so, it is a different connection.

Primary Source

A New Selected Poems


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published