lizbrownlee – poet

Poems, animal info, extraordinary women, my books!

K is for Helen Keller and Anne Sullivan #AtoZ Challenge


Helen Keller, 8 with tutor Anne Sullivan on vacation in Brewster, Cape Cod, Massachusetts

R. Stanton Avery Special Collections


This entry is taken from my new book, Reaching for the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, pub. Macmillan and written with  Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan.

Jan wrote in the book about Helen Keller – watching a film of her as she ran her hand over Anne Sullivan’s face, to ‘feel’ the way Anne was using her muscles to make sounds.

I wrote about Anne Sullivan, who taught Helen Keller to communicate. The following is the entry in the book for my poem:

Helen Keller lost both her sight and her hearing as a baby. She became very frustrated as a child until her family employed Anne Sullivan, who cleverly found ways to help her communicate. Anne was Helen’s teacher and companion until she herself died – by then, she had enabled Helen to get to college, learn to type, speak, get married, tackle issues such as women’s suffrage, and write a book.

And here is the poem:


Anne Sullivan, teacher to Helen Keller


I started with the word for doll,

finger-spelling on her hand.

This child could neither hear, nor see —

how could I make her understand?


To fill the space for song and bird,

all that sound and light explain;

out of reach did not exist

and dark and silence had no name.


Until I spelled into her hand

under a pump — though deaf and blind,

the word for water and the water

flowed together in her mind.


That living word grew in her hands,

gave her ways to hear and see,

let in hope and joy and love

with words that set her free.


© Liz Brownlee


If you’d like to read similar entries about more extraordinary women, why not buy the book this has been taken from, Reaching the Stars, Poems about Extraordinary Women and Girls, by me, Jan Dean and Michaela Morgan – link below, press on book!



Reaching for the Stars.


  1. I find Helen Keller one of the most inspirational people I have ever heard about. She was so great and shows how much one can accomplish if we put out minds to it. I love your poem and Annie Sullivan made Helen Keller what we know her today


    • Hi, Birgit! Thank you. Helen Keller is supposed to be my ‘K’ entry, I am so out of order – not having the internet exacerbated my inability to count and order dates, but she will have to stay up now as she has been tweeted… I hope I’ve got the rest right, I’ve just been through them again to check!


  2. Tina Basu

    Hellen Keller has been an inspiration for a generation now. A story of courage, belief, hope and inspiration.


    • Hello, Tina, it is a wonderful story. I heard Helen Keller speaking on a film, and really you would never have known she was deaf, Anne Sullivan taught her so well.


  3. You have evoked so much in a short piece that you brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing your beautiful poem.

    Susan A Eames at
    Travel, Fiction and Photos


    • Thanks, Susan. The poems in the book are very much more carefully written than there is time for in the A-Z!


  4. Sometimes a swiftly-written poem conveys more than an over-crafted one! Yours are always lovely.


  5. Thea O'Brian

    This was such a courageous woman. Thanks to her so many more are able to communicate. Great post here!


  6. They were both such inspiring women! It’s also a shame how many people don’t know anything about the rest of Helen’s adult life, as I found out when reading Lies My Teacher Told Me. She was a passionate Socialist, pacifist, activist, suffragist, supporter of birth control, and ACLU supporter, and really lived her beliefs. Sadly, that put her at odds with the establishment who’d once celebrated her. Many claimed she developed these beliefs due to “propaganda” from her caretakers, instead of all on her own, and began emphasizing her blindness and deafness to “explain away” why she’d become a Socialist.


    • I know, disgraceful – as if she was not intelligent woman. Not everyone though. She spent a lot of time touring and speaking to groups around the world, as well as universities in America. I wondered in the opposite direction – whether not being able to see was less distracting, and not being influenced by body language – hearing the ‘truth’ of the inner person and inner reality of a fact made her see truth more clearly.


  7. On one of our trips through Alabama, we went to Tuscumbia and saw Helen Keller’s home. The famous water pump, where Annie Sullivan finally had a breakthrough with Helen, is in the back yard.

    Liked by 1 person

    • I would dearly love to be able to see that house and pump – what a privilege!


  8. Both very inspiring women… I did not know the ‘deaf and blind’ part honestly. More respect for that!

    Maggie McAndrew and Kylee McGrane: Real Life Princesses of Compassion


    • Amazing isn’t it! I heard a recording of Helen Keller, and unlike most deaf people nowadays you could hear no trace of the fact she was deaf in her voice, so well did Anne’s methods work.


  9. If God takes away a functionality of the body, He sends his own messenger in the form of Anne Sullivan to make life a bit easier.


    • Sadly there were many in fact most blind/deaf people of that time floundering in an impossible world, so don’t think it could have anything to do with a god. She was lucky to live a life of privilege where her parents had enough money to employ servants – one of which was Anne Sullivan.


  10. How inspiring! One woman enabled the other to be independent and Helen gave a purpose to Anne.


    • Thanks, Neha. And Anne to Helen – they were both extraordinarily intelligent, and creative.

      Liked by 1 person

  11. Wonderful poem and two remarkable women who deserve even more credit than they get for their accomplishments.


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