The Abortion

Sexton, Anne

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Apr-24-2008


The poem begins, "Somebody who should have been born / is gone" and this phrase is a refrain intercalated between two sets of three tercets, with a final closing tercet. Each tercet has a rhyme scheme of a, b, a. The speaker narrates a journey that takes her south to an abortionist in the mountains of Pennsylvania, and then, after the abortion, back home to the north. The situation and the speaker's perception of it are rendered in metaphors that draw on the natural environment through which the journey proceeds. At the beginning, the earth puffs buds, and the drive proceeds toward blue-green mountains -- metaphors of fecundity. The description of the mountains as "humps" might imply the sex act that initiated pregnancy.

Soon, however, there is foreboding as dark images of tearing and splitting appear: "the ground cracks evilly," "and me wondering how anything fragile survives." Then "a little man . . . took the fullness that love began" and the speaker returns north, physically and emotionally reduced as the sky grows thin and the road is "flat as a sheet of tin."


In addition to the well developed construction of this poem as a round trip journey with a transforming event at its center, the poet gives us two different perspectives on this event. On the one hand, for most of the poem the speaker takes a rather distant, unemotional stance, even flippant as she "changed my shoes, and then drove south" or noting that "the little man" is "not Rumpelstiltskin, at all, at all". She is controlled, just as the tercet form of the poem -- one that is not particularly typical for Sexton -- is controlled. She is evasive: "Somebody who should have been born / is gone"-- what does this mean? A miscarriage? An inability to conceive? On the other hand, the title of the poem implies a deliberate act to terminate a pregnancy, although the word is sometimes used for miscarriages. And in the final tercet, the speaker addresses herself unsparingly, admitting that this evasiveness could imply "loss without death" as she exhorts herself to "say what you meant, / you coward . . . this baby that I bleed."

Primary Source

All My Pretty Ones


Houghton Mifflin

Place Published