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.

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