Sexton uses the title “Courage” as a theme to be explained. The “it” in the first stanza is courage, and the items listed after “it” are examples of courage. Sexton likens a small thing such as a “child’s first step” to a large thing, an earthquake, meaning that, both literally and metaphorically, taking a first step is a momentous occasion. In all of these examples, Sexton attempts to show the courageous aspect of everyday, often mundane, events. Being a confessional poet, Sexton is surely speaking to another part of herself; however, these events are universal as well, a point underscored by her use of the second person “we” and “you.” Also, most of these examples are taken from childhood, a time of exploration and firsts. It is also human beings’ most vulnerable time. This vulnerability often leads to suffering, something that Sexton points out as frequently repressed. This is what is meant by the lines “you drank their acid / and concealed it.” The “they” are those who hurt others, the bullies and abusers of the world.
The second stanza begins with the one-word line, “Later,” signaling the time after childhood, late adolescence or early adulthood. The conditional “if” speaks to those who might have fought in the Vietnam War (“the death of bombs and bullets”). As in the first stanza, Sexton uses a series of metaphors to develop the ways in which human beings are courageous at different times in their lives. Unlike the first stanza, which speaks to both men and women, this stanza seems primarily to address men (though it is important to note that women also fought in...
(The entire section is 687 words.)