Sunday, July 10, 2011

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man's desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.

This I have known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom the the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales.

Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

Published around 1929 - Still looking this up

Just a beautiful poem about love and loss and nature. No real reason, just thought I'd share it today.

Saturday, July 9, 2011



We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

From "A Few Figs From Thistles" 1922

This poem is one of Millay's more fun and (I like to think) summery pieces. It is about comraderie and travel and generosity and love. I wonder which ferries she was riding on - perhaps some of the same routes that travel now between Rockland and the islands of North Haven and Vinalhaven in Penobscot Bay.

Islands you travel to by ferry; apples and pears and subway fares and a beautiful sunrise - so many ways in which Maine and Washington are twins, sitting a country apart at similar latitudes.

Thursday, May 5, 2011


It's little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it's little I care;
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.

It's little I know what's in my heart,
What's in my mind it's little I know,
But there's that in me must up and start,
And it's little I care where my feet go.

I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Nor the roof of a house, nor the eyes of a face.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it's little enough I care;
And it's little I'd mind the fuss they'll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.

"Is something the matter, dear," she said,
"That you sit at your work so silently?"
"No, mother, no, 'twas a knot in my thread.
There goes the kettle, I'll make the tea."

(From "Harpweaver" 1923)

This poem is one of Millay's better known poems, in fact it has been set to music and you can hear it sung here:

But it is a strange little poem that conveys a youthful restlessness that is all-consuming and yet powerless. It is a very teenage poem in theme, but it is not from her earliest work. The nature imagery and the underlying drive of desperation are the remarkable points here. The rhyming is good, the verse structure is very Vincent, but I love this poem because it conveys beauty and agitation together and perfectly.

Monday, May 2, 2011

Never May The Fruit Be Plucked

Never, never may the fruit be plucked from the bough
And gathered into barrels.
He that would eat of love must eat it where it hangs.
Though the branches bend like reeds,
Though the ripe fruit splash in the grass or wrinkle on the tree,
He that would eat of love may bear away with him
Only what his belly can hold,
Nothing in the apron,
Nothing in the pockets.
Never, never may the fruit be gathered from the bough
And harvested in barrels.
The winter of love is a cellar of empty bins,
In an orchard soft with rot.

(From "Harpweaver" 1923)

I love the metaphor Millay employs throughout this poem. It is a reminder, warning and encouragement. The beauty and joy of love is an experience limited to the time frame it takes place in. There is no going back in time, and we often wish we had loved better and more fully when we look back. Vincent loved many people in her life and lost many of them. Her wisdom here was gained at a price, but the grace with which she conveys her knowledge in this simple poem shows her true talent as a poet.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Heart, Have No Pity... (Sonnet 29 from Fatal Interview)

HEART, have no pity on this house of bone:
Shake it with dancing, break it down with joy.
No man holds mortgage on it; it is your own;
To give, to sell at auction, to destroy.
When you are blind to moonlight on the bed,
When you are deaf to gravel on the pane,
Shall quavering caution from this house instead
Cluck forth at summer mischief in the lane?
All that delightful youth forbears to spend
Molestful age inherits, and the ground
Will have us; therefore, while we're young, my friend--

The Latin's vulgar, but the advice is sound.
Youth, have no pity; leave no farthing here
For age to invest in compromise and fear.

(From "Fatal Interview")

This poem from Fatal Interview is a bittersweet one. In it Vincent proclaims that she wants to live every moment without reserve while she is young and not try to maintain her body for when she is older. I love that she addresses the heart here, and my favorite line is "Shake it with dancing, break it down with joy."

The bitter part is that Vincent did die fairly young, and very shortly after the love of her life, Eugen, died. She loved and lived brightly and with all of her heart and her life was short. She did indeed burn her "candle at both ends" and it did not last the night. But the light was brilliant indeed.

Thursday, April 28, 2011

My heart, being hungry, feeds on food
The fat of heart despise.
Beauty where beauty never stood,
And sweet where no sweet lies
I gather to my querulous need,
Having a growing heart to feed.

It may be, when my heart is dull,
Having attained its girth,
I shall not find so beautiful
The meagre shapes of earth,
Nor linger in the rain to mark
The smell of tansy through the dark.

(From "Harpweaver" 1922)

This poem was published in "Harpweaver and Other Poems" and she won a Pulitzer in 1923 for this volume. My favorite part of the particular poem is the last two lines. When I read them it makes me feel that I am standing in the rain, on a dark night, with the sweet scent of tansy rising up across the valley with the mist.

Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Thou Art Not Lovelier Than Lilacs

Thou art not lovelier than lilacs,--no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
Than small white single poppies,--I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go,
I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
So has it been with mist,--with moonlight so.
Like him who day by day unto his draught
Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
I drink—and live--what has destroyed some men.

(From "Renanscence" 1917)

This is a very early poem, from Millay's first book of poetry, "Renascence." She compares the beauty of nature to that of this person she loves, and claims that their brilliant light would destroy someone who, unlike her, had not spent time being awestruck by the beauty of the earth. I love the comparison, and the imagery. What a beautiful poem and when we remember how young she was when she wrote it - she was 25 when this volume was published - it is even more remarkable.

Love Is Not All (Fatal Interview Sonnet XXX)

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It may well be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It may well be. I do not think I would.

(From "Fatal Interview" 1931)

This sonnet is fairly well known, probably because it is so accessible and easy to remember. The verse structure makes it a classic sonnet but the content makes it classic Millay. The first part of the poem is often said to be the objective part while the second half is the introspective portion, but knowing what we know about this set of poetry and how it was written largely about her affair with Dillon, it is easy to see that the entire poem is very personal.

The first line is an excellent hook, it pulls the reader in with a general statement of truth. She draws pictures of how love cannot save the lives of people who are ill but reminds us that without love we can suffer greatly as well. Then she uses herself as an example of this fact and asks if there is anything that could force her to give away the feeling of the love they share, or the memory of this night together. She concludes, in her humanizing way, that it is possible. But not likely.

Millay knew how precious love was, and in this little sonnet, with its quaint rhymes and imagery, she reminds us to cherish our loves as well.

Monday, April 25, 2011

New England Spring, 1942

The rush of rain against the glass
Is louder than my noisy mind
Crying, "Alas!"

The rain shouts: "Hear me, how I melt the ice that clamps
the bent and frozen grass!
Winter cannot come twice
Even this year!
I break it up; I make it water the roots of spring!
I am the harsh beginning, poured in torrents down the hills,
And dripping from the trees and soaking, later,
and when the wind is still,
Into the roots of flowers, which your eyes, incredulous,
soon will suddenly find!
Comfort is almost here."

The sap goes up the maple; it drips fast
From the tapped maple into the tin pail
Through tubes of hollow elder; the pails brim;
Birds with scarlet throats and yellow bellies
sip from the pail's rim.
Snow falls thick; it is sifted
Through cracks about windows and under doors;
It is drifted through hedges into country roads. It cannot last.
Winter is past.
It is hurling back at us boasts of no avail.

But Spring is wise. Pale and with gentle eyes,
one day somewhat she advances;
The next, with a flurry of snow into flake-filled skies retreats
before the heat in our eyes, and the thing designed
By the sick and longing mind in its lonely fancies—
The sally which would force her and take her.
And Spring is kind.
Should she come running headlong in a wind-whipped acre
Of daffodil skirts down the mountain into this dark valley
we would go blind.

(From "Mine The Harvest" 1954)

This is one to just enjoy.

How innocent we lie among

How innocent we lie among
The righteous!--Lord, how sweet we smell,
Doing this wicked thing, this love,
Bought up by bishops!--doing well,
With all our leisure, all our pride,
What's illy done and done in haste
By licensed folk on every side,
Spitting out fruit before they taste.

(That stalk must thrust a clubby bud,
Push an abortive flower to birth.)

Under the moon and the lit scud
Of the clouds, the cool conniving earth
Pillows my head, where your head lies;

Weep, if you must, into my hair
Tomorrow's trouble: the cold eyes
That know you gone and wonder where.

But tell the bishops with their sons,
Shout to the City Hall how we
Under a thick barrage of guns
Filched their divine commodity.

(From "Mine The Harvest" 1954)

Where to start? The first important thing to note is that this poem is found in "Mine The Harvest," one of Millay's later books. The maturity of the verse structure makes sense for this timing but the subject matter does not. The beauty of this poem, for me, is in its ability to blend social commentary with joyous passion. I love the alliteration she uses with "cool, conniving earth." But my favorite part of this poem is the last part. It has a victorious feel to it, a rebellious, young and free declaration.

Song For Young Lovers In A City

Though less for love than for the deep
Though transient death that follows it
These childish mouths grown soft in sleep
Here in a rented bed have met,

They have not met in love's despite.
Such tiny loves will leap and flare
Lurid as coke-fires in the night,
Against a background of despair.

To treeless grove, to grey retreat
Descend in flocks from corniced eaves
The pigeons now on sooty feet,
To cover them with linden leaves.

(Published in Poetry Magazine, 1938)

This poem is interesting in that it is about someone else (at least in theory). Millay wrote very often about her own feelings and experiences, and less often about what she imagined others felt and did. In this poem she draws for us a picture of two people younger than herself, genders unspecified. The first lines pose a riddle, what is the "transient death" she is talking about here that draws these two together? I love the line "lurid as coke-fires in the night" and the image of a sad, grey city that she paints to contrast the relationship she describes. There is a beautiful, song-like quality to the last stanza that sticks with you as the poem ends. Enjoy!

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Doubt No More That Oberon

Doubt no more that Oberon—
Never doubt that Pan
Lived, and played a reed, and ran
After nymphs in a dark forest,
In the merry, credulous days,—
Lived, and led a fairy band
Over the indulgent land!
Ah, for in this dourest, sorest
Age man's eye has looked upon,
Death to fauns and death to fays,
Still the dog-wood dares to raise—
Healthy tree, with trunk and root—
Ivory bowls that bear no fruit,
And the starlings and the jays—
Birds that cannot even sing—
Dare to come again in spring!

(From "Second April")

This poem was running through my head today, perhaps because spring is starting to show itself, even through the rain.

Wednesday, April 20, 2011

The Little Hill (an Easter poem)

The Little Hill

Oh, here the air is sweet and still,
And soft's the grass to lie on;
And far away's the little hill
They took for Christ to die on.

And there's a hill across the brook,
And down the brook's another;
But, oh, the little hill they took,--
I think I am its mother!

The moon that saw Gethsemane,
I watch it rise and set:
It has so many things to see,
They help it to forget.

But little hills that sit at home
So many hundred years,
Remember Greece, remember Rome,
Remember Mary's tears.

And far away in Palestine,
Sadder than any other,
Grieves still the hill that I call mine,--
I think I am its mother!

(From "Second April")

Millay is not known as a religious poet, and perhaps this poem is not as religious as it is sentimental. This is a beautiful little poem that communicates an enormous grief in five little rhyming sets of four lines. The emotion she shows us here is a full-felt, whole-soul empathy with the tragic pain that comprises the first half of the Easter story. Perhaps it is not a healthy empathy or a good emphasis but it is a beautiful poem and this seems like the best time of year to appreciate it.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Theme and Variations VIII "The Time of Year Ennobles You"

Theme and Variations VIII

The time of year ennobles you.
The death of autumn draws you in.

The death of those delights I drew
From such a cramped and troubled source
Ennobles all, including you,
Involves you as a matter of course.

You are not, you have never been
(Nor did I ever hold you such)
Between you banks, that all but touch -
Fit subject for heroic song...
The busy stream not over-strong.
The flood that any leaf could dam...

Yet more than half of all I am
Lies drowned in shallow water here:
And you assume the time of year.

I do not say my love will last;
Yet Time's perverse, eccentric power
Has bound the hound and stag so fast
That strange companions mount the tower
Where Lockhart's fate with Keats is cast
And Booth with Lincoln shares the hour.

That which quelled me, lives with me,
Accomplice in catastrophe.

From "Huntsman, What Quarry?"

This is one of eight exquisite poems in a series called "Theme and Variation." The set of poems is about the end of a relationship and it has both comforted and inspired me. Even when I am not in a place where I can directly relate to the theme of the poems, the imagery and haunting verse structure always draw me in. Enjoy.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Dirge Without Music

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick & keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

(From "Buck In The Snow" 1928)

I read this poem as part of a poetry presention I did for Speech competitions in high school. I made it to state and through the quarter finals. I didn't enough points to progress past semi-finals and I remember clearly reading in the critiques of my presentation that my reading of this poem - Millay's "Dirge Without Music" was too emotional and dramatic, and thus I didn't get the full amount of points from the judges.

They were right, to a point. Speech competitions are about professional, reserved presentation. But perhaps I made the wrong choice of poem, because how can anyone read something so powerful, defiant and soulful without feeling it resonante throughout their being?

Working at the hospital I meet many inspirational people. But they are not well, and some of them pass away, and it is difficult to accept that these beautiful, strong people are gone.

I know that I've mentioned before that Millay suffered many losses early in her life, and death took many of the people she loved from her. This poem is so uniquely Vincent. It is about death but not about mourning. Perhaps the most tear-jerking line in the poem "More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world", happens near the end, and I feel that the poem does move from reserve to emotionality, with the feeling of the poem peaking at the second to last line. And then she ends the way she began with "I am not resigned."

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Sonnet "Oh You Will Be Sorry"

Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard?-
"What a big book for such a little head!"
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink.
Oh, I shall love you still and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafy, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And someday when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not to stormy
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

(From "A Few Figs From Thistles")

Millay was so ahead of her times when it came to the recognition of women as the intellectual equals of men. For her first poetry competition she submitted her epic work "Renascence" and got second place, even though most people agreed her poem was better than the first place poem, which was written by a man. In fact, the man who wrote the winning poem wrote her a letter telling her that he believed her poem was better than his, and that she should have won first place.

I like the flippancy of this poem too. The casual endearment of the line "I shall love you still and all of that" but her determination that she will be gone one day because he does not appreciate her for what she really is.

Indeed, the man she married was in love, not just with Vincent, but with her poetry as well.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

The Penitent

I had a little Sorrow,
Born of a little Sin,
I found a room all damp with gloom
And shut us all within;
And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
"And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
And I upon the floor will lie
And think how bad I've been!"

Alas for pious planning—
It mattered not a whit!
As far as gloom went in that room,
The lamp might have been lit!
My little Sorrow would not weep,
My little Sin would go to sleep—
To save my soul I could not keep
My graceless mind on it!

So I got up in anger,
And took a book I had,
And put a ribbon on my hair
To please a passing lad,
And, "One thing there's no getting by—
I've been a wicked girl," said I:
"But if I can't be sorry, why,
I might as well be glad!"

From "A Few Figs From Thistles"

What a funny little poem! It sure sticks in my head at times though. Very flippant and trite and full of whimsy, but still it resonates. And there's a message there too - because we all "might as well be glad"

Monday, April 11, 2011

Fatal Interview Sonnet XI - "Not In A Silver Casket"

Sonnet XI

Not in a silver casket cool with pearls
Or rich with red corundum or with blue
Locked, and the key withheld, as other girls
Have given their loves, I give my love to you.
Not in a lovers'-knot, not in a ring
Worked in such fashion and the legend plain-
Semper fidelis,
where a secret spring
Kennels a drop of mischief for the brain:
Love in the open hand, no thing but that,
Ungemmed, unhidden, wishing not to hurt,
As one should bring you cowslips in a hat
Swung from the hand, or apples in her skirt,
I bring you, calling out as children do:
"Look what I have! - And these are all for you."

(From "Fatal Interview" 1931)

I was reminded of this poem by a comment on "No Lack of Counsel," a poem I posted in March. These two sonnets are similar, as the commenter noted, in their depiction of a woman who is honest about her intentions and emotions, even though she knows that her honesty puts her at a disadvantage in her attempts to charm the man she loves.

Millay was indeed intoxicated with her attraction to Dillon, and this poem strikes me as remarkable in its dedication to simple beauty in the midst of such a turbulent affair. It almost sounds as if it was written for Boissevain, and perhaps it was, but it appears in the middle of a book of sonnets written for Dillon.

She begins by saying what she is not doing, and it may help to know that red corundum is ruby and blue is sapphire. Her love is not locked away as others might, or dependent on a ring to keep a vow. She is giving her love freely, though she knows that is risky, as she writes in "No Lack of Counsel."
I admire her ability to love so freely. She had suffered many losses and heartbreaks, as her earlier poetry makes clear, and yet she loved without reservation still. It is a lesson and an inspiration and I'm so grateful that such a soulful person was also such a talented poet.

Thursday, April 7, 2011



Not for these lovely blooms that prank your chambers did I come. Indeed,
I could have loved you better in the dark;
That is to say, in rooms less bright with roses, rooms more casual, less aware
Of History in the wings about to enter with benevolent air
On ponderous tiptoe, at the cue, "Proceed."
Not that I like the ash-trays over-crowded and the place in a mess,
Or the monastic cubicle too unctuously austere and stark,
But partly that these formal garlands for our Eighth Street Aphrodite are a bit too Greek,
And partly that to make the poor walls rich with our unaided loveliness
Would have been more chic.
Yet here I am, having told you of my quarrel with the taxi-driver over a line of Milton, and you laugh; and you are you, none other.
Your laughter pelts my skin with small delicious blows.
But I am perverse: I wish you had not scrubbed--with pumice, I suppose--
The tobacco stains from your beautiful fingers. And I wish I did not feel like your mother.

(From "Huntsman, What Quarry?" 1939)

This poem was running through my head last night but I'm not entirely sure why. Perhaps it is Vincent's declaration that she "could have loved you better in the dark" and her quick correction of herself to show that she merely means that the room is overly decorated. And perhaps it is the simply perfect expression she uses when she says "you are you, none other" and adds a line about laughter that surprises me in its elegance.

In retrospect, perhaps I was trying to work out exactly what Vincent was talking about when she says she was quarreling with a taxi driver "over a line of Milton." I had always thought it was some antiquated expression for money or a place she was trying to go but now I think that Vincent, ever the intellectual as well as the poet, was actually arguing with the driver of her taxi over what the exact phrasing was of a line from one of Milton's poems! Now that would be an interesting story.

And the story of this poem is interesting. She sent it to Dillon with a large collection of other poems but this was the one he published in his magazine, the only one he seemed to like completely. Perhaps it is his odd taste to refuse rhyme in place of casual verse, or perhaps it just seemed the most fitting description of how things really were between the two of them.

Wednesday, April 6, 2011

Song Of A Second April

April this year, not otherwise
Than April of a year ago
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
Dazzling mud and dingy snow;
Hepaticas that pleased you so
Are here again, and butterflies.
There rings a hammering all day,
And shingles lie about the doors;
From orchards near and far away
The gray wood-pecker taps and bores,
And men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.
The larger streams run still and deep;
Noisy and swift the small brooks run.
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
Go up the hillside in the sun
Pensively; only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

(From "Second April" 1921)

First, a few definitions. Both hepaticas and mullein are flowering plants that Millay refers to by their latin names. They are common in the northeast, and being perennial plants they herald the coming of a new season. Both are generally in bloom in April, as one would expect from Vincent's description.

The mud and snow are here in New England during this April of 2011 as well. Spring is finally starting to show itself in slightly warmer temperatures and the sound of songbirds in the mornings. It is a beautiful season, full of hope for summer and warm days.

But it is also a season of memory, remembering last April and the ways in which is was more full of a naive kind of love than this April is. Every sign of the season returns this April, but there are some things that the changing of the season will not bring back, and as Vincent ironically points out in her final lines, those are often the things you would most long for with the return of Spring.

Thursday, March 31, 2011



White with daisies and red with sorrel
And empty, empty under the sky!--
Life is a quest and love a quarrel--
Here is a place for me to lie.
Daisies dpring from damnèd seeds,
And this red fire that here I see
Is a worthless crop of crimson weeds,
Cursed by farmers thriftily.
But here, unhated for an hour,
The sorrel runs in ragged flame,
The daisy stands, a bastard flower,
Like flowers that bear an honest name.
And here a while, where no wind brings
The baying of a pack athirst,
May sleep the sleep of blessèd things,
The blood too bright, the brow accurst.

(From "Second April" 1921)

I apologize for my brief hiatus from posting. Life has gotten in the way of poetry once again, but I'm "back to good" now, to quote Matchbox 20.

How many times have I expressed a sentiment similar to Vincent's third line in this poem "Life is a quest and love a quarrel" and recently it seems more true than ever. But in nature, especially in the Springtime we have recently been blessed with in New England, we can find comrades and resting places for our troubles and stresses and "sleep the sleep of blessèd things."

Wednesday, March 16, 2011



No matter what I say,
All that I really love
Is the rain that flattens on the bay,
And the eel-grass in the cove;
The jingle-shells that lie and bleach
At the tide-line, and the trace
Of higher tides along the beach:
Nothing in this place.

(From "Second April" 1921)

I love the imagery of the shells sitting on the beach where the tide has left them, and the line on the beach where the water was when the tide has gone out. Lately I am remembering how important it is to visit the ocean, and let the beauty of nature overcome daily stresses.

Tuesday, March 15, 2011

Time Sonnet

Time, that renews the tissues of this frame,
That built the child and hardened the soft bone,
Taught him to wail, to blink, to walk alone,
Stare, question, wonder, give the world a name,
Forget the watery darkness from whence he came,
Attends no less the boy to manhood grown,
Brings him new raiment, strips him of his own;
All skins are shed at length, remorse, even shame.
Such hope is mine, if this indeed be true,
I dread no more the first white in my hair,
Or even age itself, the easy shoe,
The cane, the wrinkled hands, the special chair:
Time, doing this to me, may alter too
My anguish, into something I can bear.

(From "Wine From These Grapes" 1934)

This sonnet seems to flow through a lifetime in a minute.

Monday, March 14, 2011

City Trees

City Trees

The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,--
I know what sound is there.

(From "Second April" 1921)

There is such beautiful music in the trees outside, with a little wind rushing through them in the sunshine. Spring is here, in the city and the towns.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Goose Girl

Goose Girl

Spring rides no horses down the hill,
But comes on foot, a goose-girl still.
And all the loveliest things there be
Come simply, so, it seems to me.
If ever I said, in grief or pride,
I tired of honest things, I lied:
And should be cursed forevermore
With Love in laces, like a whore,
And neighbours cold, and friends unsteady,
And Spring on horseback, like a lady!

(From "Harpweaver" 1923)

Today the river, which has been frozen over for months, was flowing as freely as summer between its ice-covered banks. Spring is moving in by little steps, and soon flowers will be blooming. Things that seemed exciting in their cloudy disguises have lost their allure. Nature roots us back to honest, good things, both in ourselves and in others.

Wednesday, March 9, 2011



For the sake of some things
That be now no more
I will strew rushes
On my chamber-floor,
I will plant bergamot
At my kitchen-door.
For the sake of dim things
That were once so plain
I will set a barrel
Out to catch the rain,
I will hang an iron pot
On an iron crane.
Many things be dead and gone
That were brave and gay;
For the sake of these things
I will learn to say,
"An it please you, gentle sirs,"
"Alack!" and "Well-a-day!"

(From "Second April" 1921)

The ways we remember people and relationship that were dear to us are not always direct, but personal symbolisms have meanings that can ease the pain of loss.

Fatal Interview - Sonnet III "No Lack of Counsel"

No lack of counsel from the shrewd and wise
How love may be acquired and how conserved
Warrants this laying bare before your eyes
My needle to your north abruptly swerved;
If I would hold you, I must hide my fears
Lest you be wanton, lead you to believe
My compass to another quarter veers,
Little surrender, lavishly receive.
But being like my mother the brown earth
Fervent and full of gifts and free from guile,
Liefer would I you loved me for my worth,
Though you should love me but a little while,
Than for a philtre any doll can brew, —
Though thus I bound you as I long to do.

(From "Fatal Interview" 1931)

This is the third sonnet in the Fatal Interview set, and it sets the tone early on for how her relationship with Dillon went. I love the compass metaphor and her declaration that she would rather be loved for her who she really is.

Thursday, March 3, 2011

"I Shall Go Back Again"

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door
But by a yard or two; and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand.
I shall be gone to what I understand,
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung.
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.

(From "Harpweaver" 1923)

Ocean imagery, love lost, nature rediscovered and a passion undefeated by heartache. The last two lines are my favorite.

Wednesday, March 2, 2011

Here In A Rocky Cup of Earth

Here In A Rocky Cup of Earth

Here in a rocky cup of earth
The simple acorn brought to birth
What has in ages grown to be
A very oak, a mighty tree.
The granite of the rock is split
And crumbled by the girth of it.

Incautious was the rock to feed
The acorn's mouth; unwise indeed
Am I, upon whose stony heart
Fell softly down, sits quietly,
The seed of love's imperial tree
That soon may force my breast apart.

"I fear you not. I have no doubt
My meagre soil shall starve you out!"

Unless indeed you prove to be
The kernel of a kingly tree;

Which if you be I am content
To go the way the granite went,
And be myself no more at all,
So you but prosper and grow tall.

(From "Mine the Harvest" 1954)

This poem always draws me in with its beauty and courage. I can't fully relate to it yet but I love to believe I someday will.

The image of this tree sprung from a large rock is etched in my mind.

I hope you enjoy it as well.

Tuesday, March 1, 2011

Sonnet X From "Sonnets From An Ungrafted Tree"

She had forgotten how the August night
Was level as a lake beneath the moon,
In which she swam a little, losing sight
Of shore; and how the boy, who was at noon
Simple enough, not different from the rest,
Wore now a pleasant mystery as he went,
Which seemed to her an honest enough test
Whether she loved him, and she was content.
So loud, so loud the million crickets' choir . . .
So sweet the night, so long-drawn-out late . . .
And if the man were not her spirit's mate,
Why was her body sluggish with desire?
Stark on the open field the moonlight fell,
But the oak tree's shadow was deep and black and secret as a well.

(From "Harpweaver and Other Poems" 1923)

This is the first poem I'm sharing from a collection Millay titled "Sonnets From An Ungrafted Tree" which she published the "Harpweaver" collection in 1923. These sonnets tell the story of a woman who is caring for her dying husband, who she has been separated from for many years. This particular poem is part of a two poem set that tells her memories of how they met many years ago.

In the frigid cold of March, the passion of this poem and its description of a warm summer night are especially wonderful. The story it tells, of interpreting desire as love, is a familiar one that reminds me of the dialouge in Williams' "Streetcar Named Desire." I love the way that Millay phrases the rationalization her character is engaging in "Which seemed to her an honest enough test/ Whether she loved him." The rest of the sonnet series tells us that it was not love, but I'll save the rest for later.

Monday, February 28, 2011

My Candle Burns At Both Ends and Midnight Oil

My candle burns at both ends
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends -
It gives a lovely light.

I had the occasion to quote this lovely poem when someone asked "And when do you sleep?"

It is the perfect answer.

And it always makes me think of this one as well:

Midnight Oil
Cut if you will, with Sleep's dull knife,
Each day to half its length, my friend,--
The years that Time take off my life,
He'll take from off the other end!

(Both from "A Few Figs From Thistles" 1920)

The second is as flippant and funny as it is sadly true. Millay died quite young.

Perhaps I should endeavor to get some sleep after all :)

Sunday, February 27, 2011


And if I loved you Wednesday,
Well, what is that to you?
I do not love you Thursday -
So much is true.

And why you come complaining
Is more than I can see.
I loved you Wednesday, - yes - but what
Is that to me?

(From "First Fig" 1922)

A cheeky little poem for the weekend.

Friday, February 25, 2011

"I Shall Forget You" Sonnet

I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year,
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And oaths were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.

This sonnet was printed as a companion to one I posted earlier this month in the post entitled " 'I Should Have' Sonnet." While the first sonnet I posted speaks to a love lost, this one speaks to an current affair that she feels sure will end, although she wishes that it wouldn't. The boldness of the first line and the flippant character of the middle section complement each other wonderfully. She is dooming this flirtation to an end but while it goes on, she seems to say, we might as well have fun.

The last two lines have a haunting quality that speak beyond the present situation of the poem and to Millay's view of relationships in general. Our biological natures are not predisposed to aid us in our search for true love, and whether we find it or not we will live and die the same. It is a morbid take on the search for love, especially in such a flirty poem, but Millay was often grave and this little sonnet is simply no exception.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

"Whereas At Morning" Fatal Interview - Sonnet 24

Whereas at morning in a Jeweled Crown
I bit my fingers and was hard to please,
Having shook disaster till the fruit fell down
I feel tonight more happy and at ease:
Feet running in the corridors, men quick—
Buckling their sword-belts, bumping down the stair,
Challenge, and rattling bridge-chain, and the click
Of hooves on pavement—this will clear the air.
Private this chamber as it has not been
In many a month of muffled hours; almost,
Lulled by the uproar, I could lie serene
And sleep, until all's won, until all's lost,
And the door's opened and the issue shown,
And I walk forth Hell's Mistress—or my own.

(From "Fatal Interview" 1931)

This has been one of my favorite "Fatal Interview" sonnets since I first found Millay many years ago. Her medieval metaphor encompasses the entire poem here, and yet she still manages to make it a parable, not a just a story. Not a line of the poem steps outside the bounds of the scene she has set, yet we can tell she isn't really talking about a castle and a battle - she is talking about her relationship with Dillon.

This poem makes more sense in the context of Fatal Interview, as it is situated after a poem condeming falsehood and directly before a poem that likens desire to a dangerous walk in the woods at night. While the former poem is a decision not to lie and the latter is a description of the risk she has taken, the poem in the middle is an examination of her actions. It is more active than reflective, and it reminds me of poem 22 (two sonnets before this one) that begins "Now by this moon, before this moon shall wane/I shall be dead or I shall be with you!" The resemblance to the last line of this poem "And I walk forth Hell's Mistress—or my own" is clear. She has made a demand and awaits an answer that will either move her relationship forward or end it. It is bold, and somewhat feminist, and most of all it is excellent poetry.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Wine From These Grapes

Wine From These Grapes

Wine from these grapes I shall be treading surely
Morning and noon and night until I die.
Stained with these grapes I shall lie down to die.

If you would speak with me on any matter,
At any time, come where these grapes are grown;
And you will find me treading them to must.
Lean then above me sagely, lest I spatter
Drops of the wine I tread from grapes and dust.

Stained with these grapes I shall lie down to die.
Three women come to wash me clean
Shall not erase this stain.
Nor leave me lying purely,
Awaiting the black lover.
Death, fumbling to uncover
My body in his bed,
Shall know
There has been one
Before him.

(From "Wine From These Grapes" 1934)

This is the title poem from Millay's 1934 collection. During this time in her life she was married to Boissevain and they were traveling widely together. It's possible that she had been to parts of Italy and seen the women crushing grapes for wine, their legs stained red, and that image inspired her to write this poem.

This poem uses religious imagery to portray herself as being at constant work. I suppose she is referring to her writing, how it colors her life and defines who she is. She imagines that she will be so stained by her passion for writing that even Death will see the mark of her life's work on her body. This is not the only poem in which she casts Death as a sexual partner, and it is an intriguing metaphor. Throughout Millay's life she shared love and passion with many people and it is perhaps fitting that she imagined Death as yet another lover.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011



People that build their houses inland,
People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
Tons of water striking the shore,--
What do they long for, as I long for
One salt smell of the sea once more?

People the waves have not awakened,
Spanking the boats at the harbor's head,
What do they long for, as I long for,--
Starting up in my inland bed,

Beating the narrow walls, and finding
Neither a window nor a door,
Screaming to God for death by drowning,--
One salt taste of the sea once more?

(From "Second April" 1921)

Growing up on the coast of Maine and living much of her life on the ocean, Millay had a strong attachment to sea and it features prominently in many of her poems. This poem is not about being near the ocean, it is about being away from the ocean and longing for all its qualities. It begins with a question: How do people live away from the ocean? Do they not feel the same way as she does? And it quickly grows louder and more intense until she portrays herself running around the house, crying and screaming.

I have asked this question myself, though not as intensely as Millay poses it here. How do people live in places far from large bodies of water? Don't they miss that smell, the sounds of the water, seeing the sun dancing on the waves? How can they stand to be so far away from it?

This poem is reminiscent of "Exiled," a poem I posted earlier this month, but it is more desperate. While "Exiled" has a contemplative bent, "Inland" is angry, passionate and demanding. These subjectively similar yet emotionally distinct poems show two sides of a vertisile and brilliant poet.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

"Night Is My Sister" From Fatal Interview

Night is my sister, and how deep in love,
How drowned in love and weedily washed ashore,
There to be fretted by the drag and shove
At the tide's edge, I lie - these things and more:
Whose arm alone between me and the sand,
Whose voice alone, whose pitiful breath brought near,
Could thaw these nostrils and unlock this hand,
She could advise you, should you care to hear.
Small chance, however, in a storm so black,
A man will leave his friendly fire and snug
For a drowned woman's sake, and bring her back
To drip and scatter shells upon the rug.
No one but night, with tears on her dark face,
Watches beside me in this windy place.

(From "Fatal Interview" 1931)

I love this poem. It sounds desperate, it's heavy on dark metaphor and it goes out of its way to rhyme, but I love it. There is something so loud and real about this poem, like hearing the sound of your own heartbeat in a pitch black room. I love the imagery of scattering shells on the rug in front of the fire. I can see the sand in her hair, smell the seaweed and hear the shells hitting the floor.

This is another sonnet from Fatal Interview, which means it is another sonnet about Dillon. Millay's turbulent relationship with him was terrible for her, but great for her poetry, and this poem is an excellent example of that. She describes herself as sad, pathetic, drowning in love with no hope of comfort - but she does so beautifully.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011



Butterflies are white and blue
In this field we wander through.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.

All the things we ever knew
Will be ashes in that hour,
Mark the transient butterfly,
How he hangs upon the flower.

Suffer me to take your hand.
Suffer me to cherish you
Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two.

(From "Second April" 1921)

Another poem from "Second April" today. Mariposa means butterfly in french, a language Millay used selectively in her poetry and her poem titles.

This poem communicates a sense of carpe diem applied to love that is both morbid and romantic. The last stanza "Suffer me to take you hand/Suffer me to cherish you" is a plea to love while we are still alive and to me connates a sense of unrequitedness and a desire to give love.

It is true, life is short and the short, beautiful life a butterfly is a poignant reminder of that fact. I love the enormous meaning she packs into this short poem, and the heartbreaking quality of her rhymes in this piece.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011


The railroad track is miles away,
And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
But I hear its whistle shrieking.
All night there isn't a train goes by,
Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
And hear its engine steaming.
My heart is warm with the friends I make,
And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
No matter where it's going.

(From “Second April” 1921)

That sound of a train in the distance, the image of its the cinders on the sky - that is what I love most about this poem. No metaphors here, just her skill at detailing an emotion and connecting it to a physical reality.

It is an odd feeling to know that where you are is a good place, the people who surround you are the sorts of people you want to be with and yet in an instant you would leave it behind to jump on a train that is going somewhere, anywhere new.

Millay had a great deal of wanderlust, she traveled to throughout Europe and the US during her lifetime and didn't settle in one place until she moved to Steepletop with Eugen near the end of her short life. This poem is an earlier work, and it has a sense of youthfulness to it but the emotions are mature.

I think of this poem when I'm in my room and I hear and I hear a train whistle. And for me, it goes hand in hand with this song: Video Link - Matt Kearney "Nothing Left To Lose"

Monday, February 14, 2011

Modern Declaration

Modern Declaration

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of those loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by a
conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers of
their alert enemies; declare

That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.

(From "Huntsman, What Quarry?" 1939)

Seeing as it is St. Valentine's day, I thought it fitting to share one of Millay's few poems about lasting love. In this poem she makes use of a few metaphors to make her point, but there is no overarching metaphor that runs throughout the poem. She is more realistic here, describing what type of a person she is and why her declaration of love is one that can be counted upon. She names it "Modern Declaration" probably because her metaphors are drawn from modern life - wars, politics, clergy, critics, chiropractors, job interviews - these references are starkly different from her usual nature metaphors and references to ancient myth. They are modern and they are plainly stated. The last part of the poem connects us back to the first line and pulls out the simple statement behind the elongated verse: "I have loved very few things in my life but I have always been true to them, so when I say I love you, I mean forever."

It could be seen as making a case for her own devotion but I think there is more to it than that. She acknowleges the cares and concerns of modern life and says that yes, these exist, but my love for you is better than that.

Its not flowery or passionate, but I think that this may perhaps be the most romantic poem Vincent ever published.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Flirty Sonnet

I, being born a woman and distressed
By all the needs and notions of my kind,
Am urged by your propinquity to find
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
To bear your body's weight upon my breast:
So subtly is the fume of life designed,
To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind,
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason
Of my stout blood against my staggering brain,
I shall remember you with love, or season
My scorn with pity, - let me make it plain:
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
For conversation when we meet again.

(From "Harpweaver" 1923)

Oh come on, you know what this is about.

I love the blunt sincerity she pummels the reader with, with every line becoming more logical and cold and less impulsively passionate. My favorite line here is "To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind."

This is one for the wild times; you can give it out with your fake phone number.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Above These Cares

Above these cares my spirit in calm abiding
Floats like a swimmer at sunrise, facing the pale sky;
Peaceful, heaved by the light infrequent lurch of the heavy wave serenely sliding
Under his weightless body, aware of the wide morning, aware of the gull on the red buoy bedaubed with guano, aware of his sharp cry;
Idly athirst for the sea, as who should say:
In a moment I will roll upon my mouth and drink it dry.

Painfully, under the pressure that obtains
At the sea's bottom, crushing my lungs and my brains
(For the body makes shift to breathe and after a fashion flourish
Ten fathoms deep in care,
Ten fathoms deep in an element denser than air
Wherein the soul must perish)
I trap and harvest, stilling my stomach's needs;
I crawl forever, hoping never to see
Above my head the limbs of my spirit no longer free
Kicking in frenzy, a swimmer enmeshed in weeds.

(From "Wine From These Grapes" 1934)

This is an excellent example of Millay's late work. Mature, quiet, full of metaphor but not overflowing, her poetry took a much more subtle, thoughtful turn in her later years. She had gained a great deal of experience, both in the literary world and her personal life. Many losses had touched her and she wrote a great deal about death throughout her lifetime, and the cumulative toll of these losses aged her. In 1934, at the age of 42, she was not writing love poems but poems about mankind. "Wine From These Grapes," the collection this poem comes from, also contains a set of sonnets called "Epitaph for the Race of Man," which addressed the human condition and broke from her tradition of writing mostly nature and love poetry.

"Above These Cares" paints a vivid picture of the spirit at peace even while the mind must be troubled with daily cares. The first few lines of this poem seem to evoke such a sense of complete and perfect peace. And the wish she ends with is one that I think most people make. That we may have within us a quiet calm even when we are forced to wrestle with our daily realities of stresses and demands. That we might feel that some part of ourselves is still floating "like a swimmer at sunrise" no matter our present circumstances.

Wednesday, February 9, 2011


Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles groaning
Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
And the black sticks that fence the weirs,

If I could see the weedy mussels
Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,

Feel once again the shanty straining
Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
Dread the bell in the fog outside,—

I should be happy,—that was happy
All day long on the coast of Maine!
I have a need to hold and handle
Shells and anchors and ships again!

I should be happy, that am happy
Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
I have a need of water near.

I thought it was time for an ocean poem. Millay grew up on the ocean in northern Maine but she lived most of her adult life travelling and settled in upstate New York with Boissevain. Her description of the sounds, smells and sights of a fishing village are so real and evocative, it makes me feel that I am there with her, and I can almost hear the gulls and smell the salt water. Her declaration the she "has a need to hold and handle/shells and anchors and ships again!" is so decisive it is a call to rush to the beach! I also love the way she begins this poem, trying to found out why she feeling sad and realizing that past all of these daily cares, the true reason for her depression is distance from the ocean. I think that many people can relate to that feeling of being most alive when you are near the ocean, whether it be Pacific, Atlantic or any other!

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

"I Should Have" Sonnet

I think I should have loved you presently,
And given in earnest words I flung in jest;
And lifted honest eyes for you to see,
And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;
And all my pretty follies flung aside
That won you to me, and beneath your gaze,
Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,
Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.
I, that had been to you, had you remained,
But one more waking from a recurrent dream,
Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,
And walk your memory's halls, austere, supreme,
A ghost in marble of a girl you knew
Who would have loved you in a day or two.

I love the simple statement this poem makes about attractions that don’t turn into romances, and the certainty she has, both about what the future would have been and about the memory that this person has of her. It addresses us as the opportunity lost and tells us what we have missed. And she is describing a real phenomenon, the moment when games and flirtation turn to love and seriousness. My favorite line from this poem is “But one more waking from a recurrent dream” as it calls to mind the way multiple similar days can feel like waking up in the same day over and over again.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Afternoon On A Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!

I just love the joy and enthusiasm of this short piece. It is an early work, so it shows the raw talent she began with. In the dead of winter, it seems like a good reminder that summer will be here again!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Now By The Path I Climbed

Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
The oaks have grown; I have been long away.
Talking with me your memory and your lack
I now descend into a milder day;
Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope,
Descend the path I mounted from the plain;
Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope
And stonier, now that I go down again.
Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of a bell
Faintly ascends upon this heavier air;
I do recall those grassy pastures well:
In early spring they drove the cattle there.
And close at hand should be a shelter, too,
From which the mountain peaks are not in view.

(From Fatal Interview)

Fatal Interview is an extensive series of sonnets Millay wrote about her turbulent affair with George Dillon. This sonnet is found in the second half of the collection, so it makes sense that here is speaking about the end of the passionate relationship she had with Dillon. The metaphor of descending from a hill in the springtime is a descriptive one, and I love the alteration between metaphor and reality. This is especially apparent in the lines "Talking with me your memory and your lack/I now descend into a milder day" where in the first line she refers to the loss of her lover and in the second casts the scene of walking down a mountain into milder weather. Although she undoubtedly loved Dillon, he was not the love of her life, and in fact her affair with him occurred during her marriage to the man she loved most, Eugen Jan Boissevain.

I plan on sharing many more sonnets from this Fatal Interview, as there are some of Millay's most descriptive and passionate work, but I always find it interesting to keep in mind that the person who inspired these poems was but a turbulent season in a life full of many loves.

Saturday, February 5, 2011


My heart is what it was before,
A house where people come and go;
But it is winter with your love,
The sashes are beset with snow.

I light the lamp and lay the cloth,
I blow the coals to blaze again;
But it is winter with your love,
The frost is thick upon the pane.

I know a winter when it comes:
The leaves are listless on the boughs;
I watched your love a little while,
And brought my plants into the house.

I water them and turn them south,
I snap the dead brown from the stem;
But it is winter with your love,
I only tend and water them.

There was a time I stood and watched
The small, ill-natured sparrows' fray;
I loved the beggar that I fed,
I cared for what he had to say,

I stood and watched him out of sight:
Today I reach around the door
And set a bowl upon the step;
My heart is what it was before,

But it is winter with your love;
I scatter crumbs upon the sill,
And close the window, —and the birds
May take or leave them, as they will.

February is the dead of winter here in New England and Millay paints a nuanced picture of the sadness inherent in this cold, frozen, limited season. Plants tended, birds fed and lamp glowing, all there is to do is wait for spring.

And yet winter is her chosen metaphor and not the actual subject of the poem. It is winter she is writing of, but not the literal season. Its the season of romance that is cold and ungiving, and that is what causes her to limit her emotional investments and draw parallel to the wait for spring.

As sad as this poem is, there is hope inherent in the seasonal metaphor. If it is winter with her beloved's affections, spring is sure to come eventually.

Friday, February 4, 2011

Sonnet Time!

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of a sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.

This sonnet captures so perfectly the sensation of being awestruck and the sorrow that so often follows such experiences.

Thursday, February 3, 2011


Just a rainy day or two
In a windy tower,
That was all I had of you—
Saving half an hour.

Marred by greeting passing groups
In a cinder walk,
Near some naked blackberry hoops
Dim with purple chalk.
I remember three or four
Things you said in spite,
And an ugly coat you wore,
Plaided black and white.

Just a rainy day or two
And a bitter word.
Why do I remember you
As a singing bird?

This poem really speaks about the changeable and emotional nature of memory. Although she remembers this person with vivid detail, her sense of their time together contradicts the specifics of her memory. It reminds me that sometimes moments are etched on our memories not because of what happened, but because of the way we felt.

Wednesday, February 2, 2011

The Snow Storm

No hawk hangs over in this air:
The urgent snow is everywhere.
The wing adroiter than a sail
Must lean away from such a gale,
Abandoning its straight intent,
Or else expose tough ligament
And tender flesh to what before
Meant dampened feathers, nothing more.
Forceless upon our backs there fall
Infrequent flakes hexagonal,
Devised in many a curious style
To charm our safety for a while,
Where close to earth like mice we go
Under the horizontal snow.

(From Huntsman, What Quarry (1939) )

Today we are having quite the blizzard, and Millay manages to capture the very essence of being in the midst of a New England snow storm in this poem. No birds were flying about today, they knew that the wind would be too much. And the people who did venture out looked like little mice running around the huge piles of snow that have accumulated in the parking lot. My favorite turn of phrase in this poem is in the second line: "The urgent snow is everywhere." It does indeed seem this way today, and I'm sure it must have looked even more like that in the huge storms they had in Maine when she was a little girl.