cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (death is the only way)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Spring." Again and again, darkly; the year circles and returns.


To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (her divine majesty yoko)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Wild Swans"


I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (singing down the moon)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Assault."


I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (why is there spring in this winter?)
I wasn't going to do this, Millay twice in a row, and one I've posted too many times, because it's always on my mind this time of year, but dammit, it SNOWED yesterday in New England. It precipitated coldly and unpleasantly all day long. April Fools, says the weather. Well. It cannot last, Vincent says: winter is past; it is hurling back at us boasts of no avail.


"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."

That sap goes up the maple; it drips fast
From the tapped maple into the tin pail
Through the 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 into a wind-whipped acre
Of daffodil skirts down the mountain into this dark valley, we would go blind.




We would go blind.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (nana in the field)
April is National Poetry Month! You all know what this means.

(Oh god, it's April first, I need to pay my rent! And, holy shit, I really need to do my taxes. But that's not what I was getting at.)


I dearly love this poem, I'm busy, and Millay on April 1st is becoming a personal tradition.* Once again:


Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Recuerdo."


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 the 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 the pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


*Also, writing "MY LAST DUCHESS" on any available chalkboard/whiteboard/wall-like substance each April, but I think I've mentioned that to date, no one has ever ever ever gotten it, including several English majors. At this point, I'm thinking that if anyone ever does get it, I may be fated to marry them.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
Edna St. Vincent Millay. From "Fatal Interview."

XXIX

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 quivering 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.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (the last unicorn)
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Counting-Out Rhyme

Silver bark of beech, and sallow
Bark of yellow birch and yellow
Twig of willow.

Stripe of green in moosewood maple,
Colour seen in leaf of apple,
Bark of popple.

Wood of popple pale as moonbeam,
Wood of oak for yoke and barn-beam,
Wood of hornbeam.

Silver bark of beech, and hollow
Stem of elder, tall and yellow
Twig of willow.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (it's roses not blood)
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Menses

(He speaks, but to himself, being aware how it is with her)
Think not I have not heard.
Well-fanged the double word
And well-directed flew.

I felt it. Down my side
Innocent as oil I see the ugly venom slide:
Poison enough to stiffen us both, and all our friends;
But I am not pierced, so there the mischief ends.

There is more to be said: I see it coiling;
The impact will be pain.
Yet coil; yet strike again.
You cannot riddle the stout mail I wove
Long since, of wit and love.

As for my answer . . . stupid in the sun
He lies, his fangs drawn:
I will not war with you.

You know how wild you are. You are willing to be turned
To other matters; you would be grateful, even.
You watch me shyly. I (for I have learned
More things than one in our few years together)
Chafe at the churlish wind, the unseasonable weather.

"Unseasonable?" you cry, with harsher scorn
Than the theme warrants; "Every year it is the same!
'Unseasonable!' they whine, these stupid peasants!—and never
since they were born
Have they known a spring less wintry! Lord, the shame,
The crying shame of seeing a man no wiser than the beasts he
feeds—
His skull as empty as a shell!"

("Go to. You are unwell.")

Such is my thought, but such are not my words.

"What is the name," I ask, "of those big birds
With yellow breast and low and heavy flight,
That make such mournful whistling?"

"Meadowlarks,"
You answer primly, not a little cheered.
"Some people shoot them." Suddenly your eyes are wet
And your chin trembles. On my breast you lean,
And sob most pitifullly for all the lovely things that are not and
have been.

"How silly I am!—and I know how silly I am!"
You say; "You are very patient. You are very kind.
I shall be better soon. Just Heaven consign and damn
To tedious Hell this body with its muddy feet in my mind!"
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (forgive me forgive me)
Edna St. Vincent Millay

"Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies"


Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God! Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,—mothers and fathers don't die.

And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died, who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries; they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (city life)
Oh hey it is still April! I was a little confused by the hot July weather we've had this weekend.


Edna St. Vincent Millay, "The Concert."

No, I will go alone.
I will come back when it's over.
Yes, of course I love you.
No, it will not be long.
Why may you not come with me?--
You are too much my lover.
You would put yourself
Between me and song.

If I go alone,
Quiet and suavely clothed,
My body will die in its chair,
And over my head a flame,
A mind that is twice my own,
Will mark with icy mirth
The wide advance and retreat
Of armies without a country,
Storming a nameless gate,
Hurling terrible javelins down
From the shouting walls of a singing town
Where no women wait!
Armies clean of love and hate,
Marching lines of pitiless sound
Climbing hills to the sun and hurling
Golden spears to the ground!
Up the lines a silver runner
Bearing a banner whereon is scored
The milk and steel of a bloodless wound
Healed at length by the sword!

You and I have nothing to do with music.
We may not make of music a filigree frame,
Within which you and I,
Tenderly glad we came,
Sit smiling, hand in hand.

Come now, be content.
I will come back to you, I swear I will;
And you will know me still.
I shall be only a little taller
Than when I went.


One very occasionally gets the feeling that Millay didn't respect many of her lovers.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (nana at the window)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, excerpt from Sonnets From An Ungrafted Tree.

XVII

Gazing upon him now, severe and dead,
It seemed a curious thing that she had lain
Beside him many a night in that cold bed,
And that had been which would not be again.
From his desirous body the great heat
Was gone at last, it seemed, and the taut nerves
Loosened forever. Formally the sheet
Set forth for her today those heavy curves
And lengths familiar as the bedroom door.
She was as one who enters, sly, and proud,
To where her husband speaks before a crowd,
And sees a man she never saw before--
The man who eats his victuals at her side,
Small, and absurd, and hers: for once, not hers, unclassified.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (Default)
Millay, Millay!


The Plum-Gatherer

The angry nettle and the mild
Grew together under the blue-plum trees.
I could not tell as a child
Which was my friend of these.

Always the angry nettle in the skirt of his sister
Caught my wrist that reached over the ground,
Where alike I gathered,--for the one was sweet and the other wore a frosty dust--
The broken plum and the sound.

The plum-trees are barren now and the black knot is upon them,
That stood so white in the spring.
I would give, to recall the sweetness and the frost of the lost blue plums
Anything, anything.
I thrust my arm among the grey ambiguous nettles, and wait.
But they do not sting.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (things still surprise me)
Yeah, today it's some Yeats. Just so you know, it wasn't all Irish politics and the downfall of civilization and women/beautiful women/women who aren't beautiful anymore, which is so tragic for them because, fuck, I dunno, Yeats seems to have some serious tunnel vision with regards to women and their inner lives; I think the canon of his poetry would fail the Bechdel test. I really have a hell of a time finding Yeats poems about women that don't make me wince a little. It's a problem.

But look! A KITTY!


The Cat and the Moon

The cat went here and there
And the moon spun round like a top,
And the nearest kin of the moon,
The creeping cat, looked up.
Black Minnaloushe stared up at the moon,
For, wander and wail as he would,
The pure cold light in the sky
Troubled his animal blood.
Minnaloushe runs in the grass
Lifting his delicate feet.
Do you dance, Minnaloushe, do you dance?
When two close kindred meet,
What better than call a dance?
Maybe the moon may learn,
Tired of that courtly fashion,
A new dance turn.
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
From moonlit place to place,
The sacred moon overhead
Has taken a new phase.
Does Minnaloushe know that his pupils
Will pass from change to change,
And that from round to crescent,
From crescent to round they range?
Minnaloushe creeps through the grass
Alone, important and wise,
And lifts to the changing moon
His changing eyes.


I dig Minnaloushe, but I dig Kipling's seal poetry even more. I mean, c'mon:

You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old,
Or your head will be sunk by your heels;
And summer gales and Killer Whales
Are bad for baby seals.


That's badass. It's up there with Robert Burns' poems about his dead pet sheep.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (moonlight)
Not all love is good love.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, excerpts from Sonnets From An Ungrafted Tree.


IX

Not over-kind nor quick in study
Nor skilled in sports nor beautiful was he,
Who had come into her life when anybody
Would have been welcome, so in need was she.
They have become acquainted in this way:
He flashed a mirror in her eyes at school;
By which he was distinguished; from that day
They went about together as a rule.
She told, in secret and with whispering,
How he had flashed a mirror in her eyes;
And as she told, it struck her with surprise
That this was not so wonderful a thing.
But what's the odds?--It's pretty nice to know
You've got a friend to keep you company everywhere you go.


X

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 the night, so long-drawn-out and 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.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (it falls on you and you die)
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Siege."


This I do, being man:
Gather baubles about me,
Sit in a circle of toys, and all the time
Death beating the door in.

White jade and an orange pitcher.
Hindu idol, Chinese God,--
Maybe next year, when I'm richer--
Carved beads and a lotus pod...


And all this time
Death beating the door in.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (moonlight)
If I had to pick just one Millay poem, it probably wouldn't be this--I'd go for Dirge Without Music, or Not for a Nation, or Conscientious Objector, or Love is Not All, or the whole sequence of Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree, or Epitaph for the Race of Man, or that thing that runs through my brain every spring, New England Spring 1942, or...well, you see why this woman is my favorite poet in all the world.

But if I had to pick just one poem to explain Millay, this is the one.


Edna St. Vincent Millay, untitled sonnet.

I too beneath your moon, almighty Sex
Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat,
Leaving the lofty tower I laboured at
For birds to foul and boys and girls to vex
With tittering chalk; and you, and the long necks
Of neighbors sitting where their mothers sat
Are well aware of shadowy this and that
In me, that's neither noble nor complex.
Such as I am, however, I have brought
To what it is, this tower; it is my own;
Though it was reared To Beauty, it was wrought
From what I had to build with; honest bone
Is there, and anguish; pride; and burning thought;
And lust is there, and nights not spent alone.


Oh this woman.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (moonlight)
Malcolm Cowley: "The Long Voyage."

Not that the pines were darker there,
nor mid-May dogwood brighter there,
nor swifts more swift in summer air;
it was my own country,

having its thunderclap of spring,
its long midsummer ripening,
its corn hoar-stiff at harvesting,
almost like any country,

yet being mine; its face, its speech,
its hills bent low within my reach,
its river birch and upland beech
were mine, of my own country.

Now the dark waters at the bow
fold back, like earth against the plow;
foam brightens like the dogwood now
at home, in my own country.


Edna St. Vincent Millay: excerpt from "Not for a Nation."

I know these elms, this beautiful doorway: here
I am at home, if anywhere.
A natural fondness, an affection which need never be said,
Rises from the wooden sidewalks warm as the smell of new-baked bread
From a neighbor's kitchen. It is dusk. The sun goes down.
Sparsely strung along the street the thrifty lights appear.
It is pleasant. It is good.
I am very well-known here; here I am understood.
I can walk along the street, or turn into a path unlighted, without fear
Of poisonous snakes, or of any face in town.
Tall elms, my roots go down
As deep as yours into this soil, yes, quite as deep.
And I hear the rocking of my cradle. And I must not sleep.
Not for a nation; not for a little town,
Where, when the sun goes down, you may sit without fear
On the front porch, just out of reach of the arc-light, rocking
With supper ready, wearing a pale new dress, and your baby near
In its crib, and your husband due to be home by the next trolley that you hear bumping into Elm Street--no:
For for a dream that was dreamt an elm-tree's life ago--
And longer, yes, much longer, and what I mean you know.


Lloyd Stone: these are the lyrics to "A Song of Peace" (also known as "This is My Song"), which is set to a piece of music by Jean Sibelius. Track down a recording if you can; it's lovely.

This is my song, O God of all the nations,
A song of peace for lands afar and mine.
This is my home, the country where my heart is;
Here are my hopes, my dreams, my holy shrine;
But other hearts in other lands are beating
With hopes and dreams as true and high as mine.

My country's skies are bluer than the ocean,
And sunlight beams on clover leaf and pine;
But other lands have sunlight too, and clover,
And skies are everywhere as blue as mine.
O hear my song, thou God of all the nations,
A song of peace, for their land and for mine.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (we came out of the desert together)
By god, it's April 3rd and I haven't brought out Millay yet. What's wrong with me?

Edna St. Vincent Millay, my favorite poet in all the world. All the world.


Modern Declaration

I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having wavered
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these loves;
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of these 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.
cerusee: a white redheaded girl in a classroom sitting by the window chewing on a pencil and looking bored (disaster befalls you)
And now my other favorite spring-themed Millay poem. This is from the 1953 volume Mine the Harvest, much later in her career, and she is an older and more mature poet.

This poem feels so utterly close to the earth that I feel like I can read in that moment when the snow turns into rain, when the first flowers start to bloom, when the air begins to soften from killing cold into something just this side of bearability, and I feel the wild excitement of spring stirring inside me. I wear this poem inside my head from February until July.

It's more of a March sentiment than an April thing, but they pair strangely in my mind; this is the sequel-prelude to the sour ponderings of 1921's "Spring;" it is her own answer, if she even remembered asking the question--"To what purpose do you return again?" To no purpose, she knows now, but that doesn't matter. Don't look for purpose in nature. Spring simply returns because it is time.



"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."

That sap goes up the maple; it drips fast
From the tapped maple into the tin pail
Through the 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 into a wind-whipped acre
Of daffodil skirts down the mountain into this dark valley, we would go blind.


So, April was National Poetry Month.

I like that, I like doing this in the spring, which is always such a weird time for me, the dragging grimness of winter giving way into rain which gives way into color, and then the world becomes hot and green and sleepy. I don't think I'd really have the energy any other time of year, but spring makes me restless, and you should be twitchy when you read poetry, because you'll hear better it then.

January 2017

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