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Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Ode To Silence

 Aye, but she?
Your other sister and my other soul
Grave Silence, lovelier
Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?
Clio, not you,
Not you, Calliope,
Nor all your wanton line,
Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me
For Silence once departed,
For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,
Whom evermore I follow wistfully,
Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;
Thalia, not you,
Not you, Melpomene,
Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore, I seek in this great hall,
But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.
I seek her from afar, I come from temples where her altars are, From groves that bear her name, Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame, And cymbals struck on high and strident faces Obstreperous in her praise They neither love nor know, A goddess of gone days, Departed long ago, Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes Of her old sanctuary, A deity obscure and legendary, Of whom there now remains, For sages to decipher and priests to garble, Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble, Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases, And the inarticulate snow, Leaving at last of her least signs and traces None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.
"She will love well," I said, "If love be of that heart inhabiter, The flowers of the dead; The red anemone that with no sound Moves in the wind, and from another wound That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth, That blossoms underground, And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.
And will not Silence know In the black shade of what obsidian steep Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep? (Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home, Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago, Reluctant even as she, Undone Persephone, And even as she set out again to grow In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).
She will love well," I said, "The flowers of the dead; Where dark Persephone the winter round, Uncomforted for home, uncomforted, Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily, With sullen pupils focussed on a dream, Stares on the stagnant stream That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell, There, there will she be found, She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound.
" "I long for Silence as they long for breath Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea; What thing can be So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death What fury, what considerable rage, if only she, Upon whose icy breast, Unquestioned, uncaressed, One time I lay, And whom always I lack, Even to this day, Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away, If only she therewith be given me back?" I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth, Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell, And in among the bloodless everywhere I sought her, but the air, Breathed many times and spent, Was fretful with a whispering discontent, And questioning me, importuning me to tell Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more, Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.
I paused at every grievous door, And harked a moment, holding up my hand,—and for a space A hush was on them, while they watched my face; And then they fell a-whispering as before; So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.
I sought her, too, Among the upper gods, although I knew She was not like to be where feasting is, Nor near to Heaven's lord, Being a thing abhorred And shunned of him, although a child of his, (Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath, Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).
Fearing to pass unvisited some place And later learn, too late, how all the while, With her still face, She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile, I sought her even to the sagging board whereat The stout immortals sat; But such a laughter shook the mighty hall No one could hear me say: Had she been seen upon the Hill that day? And no one knew at all How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.
There is a garden lying in a lull Between the mountains and the mountainous sea, I know not where, but which a dream diurnal Paints on my lids a moment till the hull Be lifted from the kernel And Slumber fed to me.
Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene, Though it would seem a ruined place and after Your lichenous heart, being full Of broken columns, caryatides Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees, And urns funereal altered into dust Minuter than the ashes of the dead, And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust, Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.
There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall, And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds; There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds; But never an echo of your daughters' laughter Is there, nor any sign of you at all Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria! Only her shadow once upon a stone I saw,—and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.
I tell you you have done her body an ill, You chatterers, you noisy crew! She is not anywhere! I sought her in deep Hell; And through the world as well; I thought of Heaven and I sought her there; Above nor under ground Is Silence to be found, That was the very warp and woof of you, Lovely before your songs began and after they were through! Oh, say if on this hill Somewhere your sister's body lies in death, So I may follow there, and make a wreath Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast Shall lie till age has withered them! (Ah, sweetly from the rest I see Turn and consider me Compassionate Euterpe!) "There is a gate beyond the gate of Death, Beyond the gate of everlasting Life, Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell," she saith, "Whereon but to believe is horror! Whereon to meditate engendereth Even in deathless spirits such as I A tumult in the breath, A chilling of the inexhaustible blood Even in my veins that never will be dry, And in the austere, divine monotony That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.
This is her province whom you lack and seek; And seek her not elsewhere.
Hell is a thoroughfare For pilgrims,—Herakles, And he that loved Euridice too well, Have walked therein; and many more than these; And witnessed the desire and the despair Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air; You, too, have entered Hell, And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak None has returned;—for thither fury brings Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.
Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there.
" Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory! Be long upon this height I shall not climb again! I know the way you mean,—the little night, And the long empty day,—never to see Again the angry light, Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain! Ah, but she, Your other sister and my other soul, She shall again be mine; And I shall drink her from a silver bowl, A chilly thin green wine, Not bitter to the taste, Not sweet, Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,— To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth— But savoring faintly of the acid earth, And trod by pensive feet From perfect clusters ripened without haste Out of the urgent heat In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine .
Lift up your lyres! Sing on! But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Travel

 I should like to rise and go 
Where the golden apples grow;-- 
Where below another sky 
Parrot islands anchored lie, 
And, watched by cockatoos and goats, 
Lonely Crusoes building boats;-- 
Where in sunshine reaching out 
Eastern cities, miles about, 
Are with mosque and minaret 
Among sandy gardens set, 
And the rich goods from near and far 
Hang for sale in the bazaar;-- 
Where the Great Wall round China goes, 
And on one side the desert blows, 
And with the voice and bell and drum, 
Cities on the other hum;-- 
Where are forests hot as fire, 
Wide as England, tall as a spire, 
Full of apes and cocoa-nuts 
And the negro hunters' huts;-- 
Where the knotty crocodile 
Lies and blinks in the Nile, 
And the red flamingo flies 
Hunting fish before his eyes;-- 
Where in jungles near and far, 
Man-devouring tigers are, 
Lying close and giving ear 
Lest the hunt be drawing near, 
Or a comer-by be seen 
Swinging in the palanquin;-- 
Where among the desert sands 
Some deserted city stands, 
All its children, sweep and prince, 
Grown to manhood ages since, 
Not a foot in street or house, 
Not a stir of child or mouse, 
And when kindly falls the night, 
In all the town no spark of light.
There I'll come when I'm a man With a camel caravan; Light a fire in the gloom Of some dusty dining-room; See the pictures on the walls, Heroes fights and festivals; And in a corner find the toys Of the old Egyptian boys.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

The Suicide

 "Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,—
Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away,
As if spent passion were a holiday!
And now I go.
Nor threat, nor easy vow Of tardy kindness can avail thee now With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown; Lonely I came, and I depart alone, And know not where nor unto whom I go; But that thou canst not follow me I know.
" Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain My thought ran still, until I spake again: "Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace Is mine to bear away of that old grace I brought! I have been heated in thy fires, Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires, Thy mark is on me! I am not the same Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee, For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me, Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing To have about the house when I was grown If thou hadst left my little joys alone! I asked of thee no favor save this one: That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun! And this thou didst deny, calling my name Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.
—It were not well So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell, Need I arise to-morrow and renew Again my hated tasks, but I am through With all things save my thoughts and this one night, So that in truth I seem already quite Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste And no reluctance to depart; I taste Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught, That in a little while I shall have quaffed.
" Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled, Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed Before me one by one till once again I set new words unto an old refrain: "Treasures thou hast that never have been mine! Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown Like blossoms out to me that sat alone! And I have waited well for thee to show If any share were mine,—and now I go Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain I shall but come into mine own again!" Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more, But turning, straightway, sought a certain door In the rear wall.
Heavy it was, and low And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go That other exit had, and never knock Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily, Whereof Life held content the useless key, And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust, Whose sudden voice across a silence must, I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,— A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.
—So near I came I felt upon my feet the chill Of acid wind creeping across the sill.
So stood longtime, till over me at last Came weariness, and all things other passed To make it room; the still night drifted deep Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.
But, suddenly, marking the morning hour, Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower! Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without.
* * * * Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, Leading me back unto my old abode, My father's house! There in the night I came, And found them feasting, and all things the same As they had been before.
A splendour hung Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung As, echoing out of very long ago, Had called me from the house of Life, I know.
So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame On the unlovely garb in which I came; Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked: "It is my father's house!" I said and knocked; And the door opened.
To the shining crowd Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud, Seeing no face but his; to him I crept, And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.
* * * * Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone I wandered through the house.
My own, my own, My own to touch, my own to taste and smell, All I had lacked so long and loved so well! None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song, Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.
I know not when the wonder came to me Of what my father's business might be, And whither fared and on what errands bent The tall and gracious messengers he sent.
Yet one day with no song from dawn till night Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight.
And the next day I called; and on the third Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard.
Then, sick with longing, I arose at last And went unto my father,—in that vast Chamber wherein he for so many years Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres.
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play The harp that thou didst give me, and all day I sit in idleness, while to and fro About me thy serene, grave servants go; And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas Away from thee, than this, the life I lead, To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask Forever, but forever, this denied, I perish.
" "Child," my father's voice replied, "All things thy fancy hath desired of me Thou hast received.
I have prepared for thee Within my house a spacious chamber, where Are delicate things to handle and to wear, And all these things are thine.
Dost thou love song? My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand Open as fields to thee on every hand.
And all thy days this word shall hold the same: No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head; "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

When The Year Grows Old

 I cannot but remember
 When the year grows old—
October—November—
 How she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows
 Go down across the sky,
And turn from the window
 With a little sharp sigh.
And often when the brown leaves Were brittle on the ground, And the wind in the chimney Made a melancholy sound, She had a look about her That I wish I could forget— The look of a scared thing Sitting in a net! Oh, beautiful at nightfall The soft spitting snow! And beautiful the bare boughs Rubbing to and fro! But the roaring of the fire, And the warmth of fur, And the boiling of the kettle Were beautiful to her! I cannot but remember When the year grows old — October — November — How she disliked the cold!
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Interim

 The room is full of you!—As I came in
And closed the door behind me, all at once
A something in the air, intangible,
Yet stiff with meaning, struck my senses sick!—

Sharp, unfamiliar odors have destroyed
Each other room's dear personality.
The heavy scent of damp, funereal flowers,— The very essence, hush-distilled, of Death— Has strangled that habitual breath of home Whose expiration leaves all houses dead; And wheresoe'er I look is hideous change.
Save here.
Here 'twas as if a weed-choked gate Had opened at my touch, and I had stepped Into some long-forgot, enchanted, strange, Sweet garden of a thousand years ago And suddenly thought, "I have been here before!" You are not here.
I know that you are gone, And will not ever enter here again.
And yet it seems to me, if I should speak, Your silent step must wake across the hall; If I should turn my head, that your sweet eyes Would kiss me from the door.
—So short a time To teach my life its transposition to This difficult and unaccustomed key!— The room is as you left it; your last touch— A thoughtless pressure, knowing not itself As saintly—hallows now each simple thing; Hallows and glorifies, and glows between The dust's grey fingers like a shielded light.
There is your book, just as you laid it down, Face to the table,—I cannot believe That you are gone!—Just then it seemed to me You must be here.
I almost laughed to think How like reality the dream had been; Yet knew before I laughed, and so was still.
That book, outspread, just as you laid it down! Perhaps you thought, "I wonder what comes next, And whether this or this will be the end"; So rose, and left it, thinking to return.
Perhaps that chair, when you arose and passed Out of the room, rocked silently a while Ere it again was still.
When you were gone Forever from the room, perhaps that chair, Stirred by your movement, rocked a little while, Silently, to and fro.
.
.
And here are the last words your fingers wrote, Scrawled in broad characters across a page In this brown book I gave you.
Here your hand, Guiding your rapid pen, moved up and down.
Here with a looping knot you crossed a "t," And here another like it, just beyond These two eccentric "e's.
" You were so small, And wrote so brave a hand! How strange it seems That of all words these are the words you chose! And yet a simple choice; you did not know You would not write again.
If you had known— But then, it does not matter,—and indeed If you had known there was so little time You would have dropped your pen and come to me And this page would be empty, and some phrase Other than this would hold my wonder now.
Yet, since you could not know, and it befell That these are the last words your fingers wrote, There is a dignity some might not see In this, "I picked the first sweet-pea to-day.
" To-day! Was there an opening bud beside it You left until to-morrow?—O my love, The things that withered,—and you came not back That day you filled this circle of my arms That now is empty.
(O my empty life!) That day—that day you picked the first sweet-pea,— And brought it in to show me! I recall With terrible distinctness how the smell Of your cool gardens drifted in with you.
I know, you held it up for me to see And flushed because I looked not at the flower, But at your face; and when behind my look You saw such unmistakable intent You laughed and brushed your flower against my lips.
(You were the fairest thing God ever made, I think.
) And then your hands above my heart Drew down its stem into a fastening, And while your head was bent I kissed your hair.
I wonder if you knew.
(Beloved hands! Somehow I cannot seem to see them still.
Somehow I cannot seem to see the dust In your bright hair.
) What is the need of Heaven When earth can be so sweet?—If only God Had let us love,—and show the world the way! Strange cancellings must ink th' eternal books When love-crossed-out will bring the answer right! That first sweet-pea! I wonder where it is.
It seems to me I laid it down somewhere, And yet,—I am not sure.
I am not sure, Even, if it was white or pink; for then 'Twas much like any other flower to me Save that it was the first.
I did not know Then, that it was the last.
If I had known— But then, it does not matter.
Strange how few, After all's said and done, the things that are Of moment.
Few indeed! When I can make Of ten small words a rope to hang the world! "I had you and I have you now no more.
" There, there it dangles,—where's the little truth That can for long keep footing under that When its slack syllables tighten to a thought? Here, let me write it down! I wish to see Just how a thing like that will look on paper! "I had you and I have you now no more.
" O little words, how can you run so straight Across the page, beneath the weight you bear? How can you fall apart, whom such a theme Has bound together, and hereafter aid In trivial expression, that have been So hideously dignified?—Would God That tearing you apart would tear the thread I strung you on! Would God—O God, my mind Stretches asunder on this merciless rack Of imagery! O, let me sleep a while! Would I could sleep, and wake to find me back In that sweet summer afternoon with you.
Summer? Tis summer still by the calendar! How easily could God, if He so willed, Set back the world a little turn or two! Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again! We were so wholly one I had not thought That we could die apart.
I had not thought That I could move,—and you be stiff and still! That I could speak,—and you perforce be dumb! I think our heart-strings were, like warp and woof In some firm fabric, woven in and out; Your golden filaments in fair design Across my duller fibre.
And to-day The shining strip is rent; the exquisite Fine pattern is destroyed; part of your heart Aches in my breast; part of my heart lies chilled In the damp earth with you.
I have been tom In two, and suffer for the rest of me.
What is my life to me? And what am I To life,—a ship whose star has guttered out? A Fear that in the deep night starts awake Perpetually, to find its senses strained Against the taut strings of the quivering air, Awaiting the return of some dread chord? Dark, Dark, is all I find for metaphor; All else were contrast,—save that contrast's wall Is down, and all opposed things flow together Into a vast monotony, where night And day, and frost and thaw, and death and life, Are synonyms.
What now—what now to me Are all the jabbering birds and foolish flowers That clutter up the world? You were my song! Now, let discord scream! You were my flower! Now let the world grow weeds! For I shall not Plant things above your grave—(the common balm Of the conventional woe for its own wound!) Amid sensations rendered negative By your elimination stands to-day, Certain, unmixed, the element of grief; I sorrow; and I shall not mock my truth With travesties of suffering, nor seek To effigy its incorporeal bulk In little wry-faced images of woe.
I cannot call you back; and I desire No utterance of my immaterial voice.
I cannot even turn my face this way Or that, and say, "My face is turned to you"; I know not where you are, I do not know If Heaven hold you or if earth transmute, Body and soul, you into earth again; But this I know:—not for one second's space Shall I insult my sight with visionings Such as the credulous crowd so eager-eyed Beholds, self-conjured, in the empty air.
Let the world wail! Let drip its easy tears! My sorrow shall be dumb! —What do I say? God! God!—God pity me! Am I gone mad That I should spit upon a rosary? Am I become so shrunken? Would to God I too might feel that frenzied faith whose touch Makes temporal the most enduring grief; Though it must walk a while, as is its wont, With wild lamenting! Would I too might weep Where weeps the world and hangs its piteous wreaths For its new dead! Not Truth, but Faith, it is That keeps the world alive.
If all at once Faith were to slacken,—that unconscious faith Which must, I know, yet be the corner-stone Of all believing,—birds now flying fearless Across would drop in terror to the earth; Fishes would drown; and the all-governing reins Would tangle in the frantic hands of God And the worlds gallop headlong to destruction! O God, I see it now, and my sick brain Staggers and swoons! How often over me Flashes this breathlessness of sudden sight In which I see the universe unrolled Before me like a scroll and read thereon Chaos and Doom, where helpless planets whirl Dizzily round and round and round and round, Like tops across a table, gathering speed With every spin, to waver on the edge One instant—looking over—and the next To shudder and lurch forward out of sight— * * * * * * * Ah, I am worn out—I am wearied out— It is too much—I am but flesh and blood, And I must sleep.
Though you were dead again, I am but flesh and blood and I must sleep.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

The Ballad Of The Harp-Weaver

 "Son," said my mother,
When I was knee-high,
"you've need of clothes to cover you,
and not a rag have I.
"There's nothing in the house To make a boy breeches, Nor shears to cut a cloth with, Nor thread to take stitches.
"There's nothing in the house But a loaf-end of rye, And a harp with a woman's head Nobody will buy," And she began to cry.
That was in the early fall.
When came the late fall, "Son," she said, "the sight of you Makes your mother's blood crawl,— "Little skinny shoulder-blades Sticking through your clothes! And where you'll get a jacket from God above knows.
"It's lucky for me, lad, Your daddy's in the ground, And can't see the way I let His son go around!" And she made a queer sound.
That was in the late fall.
When the winter came, I'd not a pair of breeches Nor a shirt to my name.
I couldn't go to school, Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys Passed our way.
"Son," said my mother, "Come, climb into my lap, And I'll chafe your little bones While you take a nap.
" And, oh, but we were silly For half and hour or more, Me with my long legs, Dragging on the floor, A-rock-rock-rocking To a mother-goose rhyme! Oh, but we were happy For half an hour's time! But there was I, a great boy, And what would folks say To hear my mother singing me To sleep all day, In such a daft way? Men say the winter Was bad that year; Fuel was scarce, And food was dear.
A wind with a wolf's head Howled about our door, And we burned up the chairs And sat upon the floor.
All that was left us Was a chair we couldn't break, And the harp with a woman's head Nobody would take, For song or pity's sake.
The night before Christmas I cried with cold, I cried myself to sleep Like a two-year old.
And in the deep night I felt my mother rise, And stare down upon me With love in her eyes.
I saw my mother sitting On the one good chair, A light falling on her From I couldn't tell where.
Looking nineteen, And not a day older, And the harp with a woman's head Leaned against her shoulder.
Her thin fingers, moving In the thin, tall strings, Were weav-weav-weaving Wonderful things.
Many bright threads, From where I couldn't see, Were running through the harp-strings Rapidly, And gold threads whistling Through my mother's hand.
I saw the web grow, And the pattern expand.
She wove a child's jacket, And when it was done She laid it on the floor And wove another one.
She wove a red cloak So regal to see, "She's made it for a king's son," I said, "and not for me.
" But I knew it was for me.
She wove a pair of breeches Quicker than that! She wove a pair of boots And a little cocked hat.
She wove a pair of mittens, Shw wove a little blouse, She wove all night In the still, cold house.
She sang as she worked, And the harp-strings spoke; Her voice never faltered, And the thread never broke, And when I awoke,— There sat my mother With the harp against her shoulder, Looking nineteeen, And not a day older, A smile about her lips, And a light about her head, And her hands in the harp-strings Frozen dead.
And piled beside her And toppling to the skies, Were the clothes of a king's son, Just my size.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Renascence

 All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line Of the horizon, thin and fine, Straight around till I was come Back to where I'd started from; And all I saw from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood.
Over these things I could not see; These were the things that bounded me; And I could touch them with my hand, Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
And all at once things seemed so small My breath came short, and scarce at all.
But, sure, the sky is big, I said; Miles and miles above my head; So here upon my back I'll lie And look my fill into the sky.
And so I looked, and, after all, The sky was not so very tall.
The sky, I said, must somewhere stop, And—sure enough!—I see the top! The sky, I thought, is not so grand; I 'most could touch it with my hand! And reaching up my hand to try, I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
I screamed, and—lo!—Infinity Came down and settled over me; Forced back my scream into my chest, Bent back my arm upon my breast, And, pressing of the Undefined The definition on my mind, Held up before my eyes a glass Through which my shrinking sight did pass Until it seemed I must behold Immensity made manifold; Whispered to me a word whose sound Deafened the air for worlds around, And brought unmuffled to my ears The gossiping of friendly spheres, The creaking of the tented sky, The ticking of Eternity.
I saw and heard, and knew at last The How and Why of all things, past, And present, and forevermore.
The Universe, cleft to the core, Lay open to my probing sense That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence But could not,—nay! But needs must suck At the great wound, and could not pluck My lips away till I had drawn All venom out.
—Ah, fearful pawn! For my omniscience paid I toll In infinite remorse of soul.
All sin was of my sinning, all Atoning mine, and mine the gall Of all regret.
Mine was the weight Of every brooded wrong, the hate That stood behind each envious thrust, Mine every greed, mine every lust.
And all the while for every grief, Each suffering, I craved relief With individual desire,— Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire About a thousand people crawl; Perished with each,—then mourned for all! A man was starving in Capri; He moved his eyes and looked at me; I felt his gaze, I heard his moan, And knew his hunger as my own.
I saw at sea a great fog bank Between two ships that struck and sank; A thousand screams the heavens smote; And every scream tore through my throat.
No hurt I did not feel, no death That was not mine; mine each last breath That, crying, met an answering cry From the compassion that was I.
All suffering mine, and mine its rod; Mine, pity like the pity of God.
Ah, awful weight! Infinity Pressed down upon the finite Me! My anguished spirit, like a bird, Beating against my lips I heard; Yet lay the weight so close about There was no room for it without.
And so beneath the weight lay I And suffered death, but could not die.
Long had I lain thus, craving death, When quietly the earth beneath Gave way, and inch by inch, so great At last had grown the crushing weight, Into the earth I sank till I Full six feet under ground did lie, And sank no more,—there is no weight Can follow here, however great.
From off my breast I felt it roll, And as it went my tortured soul Burst forth and fled in such a gust That all about me swirled the dust.
Deep in the earth I rested now; Cool is its hand upon the brow And soft its breast beneath the head Of one who is so gladly dead.
And all at once, and over all The pitying rain began to fall; I lay and heard each pattering hoof Upon my lowly, thatched roof, And seemed to love the sound far more Than ever I had done before.
For rain it hath a friendly sound To one who's six feet underground; And scarce the friendly voice or face: A grave is such a quiet place.
The rain, I said, is kind to come And speak to me in my new home.
I would I were alive again To kiss the fingers of the rain, To drink into my eyes the shine Of every slanting silver line, To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
For soon the shower will be done, And then the broad face of the sun Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth Until the world with answering mirth Shakes joyously, and each round drop Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.
How can I bear it; buried here, While overhead the sky grows clear And blue again after the storm? O, multi-colored, multiform, Beloved beauty over me, That I shall never, never see Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold, That I shall never more behold! Sleeping your myriad magics through, Close-sepulchred away from you! O God, I cried, give me new birth, And put me back upon the earth! Upset each cloud's gigantic gourd And let the heavy rain, down-poured In one big torrent, set me free, Washing my grave away from me! I ceased; and through the breathless hush That answered me, the far-off rush Of herald wings came whispering Like music down the vibrant string Of my ascending prayer, and—crash! Before the wild wind's whistling lash The startled storm-clouds reared on high And plunged in terror down the sky, And the big rain in one black wave Fell from the sky and struck my grave.
I know not how such things can be; I only know there came to me A fragrance such as never clings To aught save happy living things; A sound as of some joyous elf Singing sweet songs to please himself, And, through and over everything, A sense of glad awakening.
The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear, Whispering to me I could hear; I felt the rain's cool finger-tips Brushed tenderly across my lips, Laid gently on my sealed sight, And all at once the heavy night Fell from my eyes and I could see,— A drenched and dripping apple-tree, A last long line of silver rain, A sky grown clear and blue again.
And as I looked a quickening gust Of wind blew up to me and thrust Into my face a miracle Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,— I know not how such things can be!— I breathed my soul back into me.
Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I And hailed the earth with such a cry As is not heard save from a man Who has been dead, and lives again.
About the trees my arms I wound; Like one gone mad I hugged the ground; I raised my quivering arms on high; I laughed and laughed into the sky, Till at my throat a strangling sob Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb Sent instant tears into my eyes; O God, I cried, no dark disguise Can e'er hereafter hide from me Thy radiant identity! Thou canst not move across the grass But my quick eyes will see Thee pass, Nor speak, however silently, But my hushed voice will answer Thee.
I know the path that tells Thy way Through the cool eve of every day; God, I can push the grass apart And lay my finger on Thy heart! The world stands out on either side No wider than the heart is wide; Above the world is stretched the sky,— No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land Farther away on either hand; The soul can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through.
But East and West will pinch the heart That can not keep them pushed apart; And he whose soul is flat—the sky Will cave in on him by and by.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

The Fawn

 There it was I saw what I shall never forget
And never retrieve.
Monstrous and beautiful to human eyes, hard to believe, He lay, yet there he lay, Asleep on the moss, his head on his polished cleft small ebony hoves, The child of the doe, the dappled child of the deer.
Surely his mother had never said, "Lie here Till I return," so spotty and plain to see On the green moss lay he.
His eyes had opened; he considered me.
I would have given more than I care to say To thrifty ears, might I have had him for my friend One moment only of that forest day: Might I have had the acceptance, not the love Of those clear eyes; Might I have been for him in the bough above Or the root beneath his forest bed, A part of the forest, seen without surprise.
Was it alarm, or was it the wind of my fear lest he depart That jerked him to his jointy knees, And sent him crashing off, leaping and stumbling On his new legs, between the stems of the white trees?
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Sonnet (Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now)

 Women have loved before as I love now;
At least, in lively chronicles of the past—
Of Irish waters by a Cornish prow
Or Trojan waters by a Spartan mast
Much to their cost invaded—here and there,
Hunting the amorous line, skimming the rest,
I find some woman bearing as I bear
Love like a burning city in the breast.
I think however that of all alive I only in such utter, ancient way Do suffer love; in me alone survive The unregenerate passions of a day When treacherous queens, with death upon the tread, Heedless and willful, took their knights to bed.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

I Shall Forget You Presently

 IV

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 vows 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.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Apostrophe To Man

 (On reflecting that the world 
 is ready to go to war again)

Detestable race, continue to expunge yourself, die out.
Breed faster, crowd, encroach, sing hymns, build bombing airplanes; Make speeches, unveil statues, issue bonds, parade; Convert again into explosives the bewildered ammonia and the distracted cellulose; Convert again into putrescent matter drawing flies The hopeful bodies of the young; exhort, Pray, pull long faces, be earnest, be all but overcome, be photographed; Confer, perfect your formulae, commercialize Bacateria harmful to human tissue, Put death on the market; Breed, crowd, encroach, expand, expunge yourself, die out, Homo called sapiens.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Invocation To The Muses

 Read by the poet at The Public Ceremonial of The Naional Institute 
of Arts and Letters at Carnegie Hall, New York, January 18th, 1941.
Great Muse, that from this hall absent for long Hast never been, Great Muse of Song, Colossal Muse of mighty Melody, Vocal Calliope, With thine august and contrapuntal brow And thy vast throat builded for Harmony, For the strict monumental pure design, And the melodic line: Be thou tonight with all beneath these rafters—be with me.
If I address thee in archaic style— Words obsolete, words obsolescent, It is that for a little while The heart must, oh indeed must from this angry and out-rageous present Itself withdraw Into some past in which most crooked Evil, Although quite certainly conceived and born, was not as yet the Law.
Archaic, or obsolescent at the least, Be thy grave speaking and the careful words of thy clear song, For the time wrongs us, and the words most common to our speech today Salute and welcome to the feast Conspicuous Evil— or against him all day long Cry out, telling of ugly deeds and most uncommon wrong.
Be thou tonight with all beneath these rafters—be with me But oh, be more with those who are not free.
Who, herded into prison camps all shame must suffer and all outrage see.
Where music is not played nor sung, Though the great voice be there, no sound from the dry throat across the thickened tongue Comes forth; nor has he heart for it.
Beauty in all things—no, we cannot hope for that; but some place set apart for it.
Here it may dwell; And with your aid, Melpomene And all thy sister-muses (for ye are, I think, daughters of Memory) Within the tortured mind as well.
Reaped are those fields with dragon's-teeth so lately sown; Many the heaped men dying there - so close, hip touches thigh; yet each man dies alone.
Music, what overtone For the soft ultimate sigh or the unheeded groan Hast thou—to make death decent, where men slip Down blood to death, no service of grieved heart or ritual lip Transferring what was recently a man and still is warm— Transferring his obedient limbs into the shallow grave where not again a friend shall greet him, Nor hatred do him harm .
.
.
Nor true love run to meet him? In the last hours of him who lies untended On a cold field at night, and sees the hard bright stars Above his upturned face, and says aloud "How strange .
.
.
my life is ended.
"— If in the past he loved great music much, and knew it well, Let not his lapsing mind be teased by well-beloved but ill- remembered bars — Let the full symphony across the blood-soaked field By him be heard, most pure in every part, The lonely horror of whose painful death is thus repealed, Who dies with quiet tears upon his upturned face, making to glow with softness the hard stars.
And bring to those who knew great poetry well Page after page that they have loved but have not learned by heart! We who in comfort to well-lighted shelves Can turn for all the poets ever wrote, Beseech you: Bear to those Who love high art no less than we ourselves, Those who lie wounded, those who in prison cast Strive to recall, to ease them, some great ode, and every stanza save the last.
Recall—oh, in the dark, restore them The unremembered lines; make bright the page before them! Page after page present to these, In prison concentrated, watched by barbs of bayonet and wire, Give ye to them their hearts' intense desire— The words of Shelley, Virgil, Sophocles.
And thou, O lovely and not sad, Euterpe, be thou in this hall tonight! Bid us remember all we ever had Of sweet and gay delight— We who are free, But cannot quite be glad, Thinking of huge, abrupt disaster brought Upon so many of our kind Who treasure as do we the vivid look on the unfrightened face, The careless happy stride from place to place, And the unbounded regions of untrammelled thought Open as interstellar space To the exploring and excited mind.
O Muses, O immortal Nine!— Or do ye languish? Can ye die? Must all go under?— How shall we heal without your help a world By these wild horses torn asunder? How shall we build anew? — How start again? How cure, how even moderate this pain Without you, and you strong? And if ye sleep, then waken! And if ye sicken and do plan to die, Do not that now! Hear us, in what sharp need we cry! For we have help nowhere If not in you! Pity can much, and so a mighty mind, but cannot all things do!— By you forsaken, We shall be scattered, we shall be overtaken! Oh, come! Renew in us the ancient wonder, The grace of life, its courage, and its joy! Weave us those garlands nothing can destroy! Come! with your radiant eyes! — with your throats of thunder!
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Intention To Escape From Him

 Edna St.
Vincent Millay - Intention To Escape From Him I think I will learn some beautiful language, useless for commercial Purposes, work hard at that.
I think I will learn the Latin name of every songbird, not only in America but wherever they sing.
(Shun meditation, though; invite the controversial: Is the world flat? Do bats eat cats?) By digging hard I might deflect that river, my mind, that uncontrollable thing, Turgid and yellow, srong to overflow its banks in spring, carrying away bridges A bed of pebbles now, through which there trickles one clear narrow stream, following a course henceforth nefast— Dig, dig; and if I come to ledges, blast.
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

Elegy Before Death

 There will be rose and rhododendron
When you are dead and under ground;
Still will be heard from white syringas
Heavy with bees, a sunny sound;

Still will the tamaracks be raining
After the rain has ceased, and still
Will there be robins in the stubble,
Brown sheep upon the warm green hill.
Spring will not ail nor autumn falter; Nothing will know that you are gone, Saving alone some sullen plough-land None but yourself sets foot upon; Saving the may-weed and the pig-weed Nothing will know that you are dead,— These, and perhaps a useless wagon Standing beside some tumbled shed.
Oh, there will pass with your great passing Little of beauty not your own,— Only the light from common water, Only the grace from simple stone!
Written by Edna St Vincent Millay | Create an image from this poem

The Death Of Autumn

 When reeds are dead and a straw to thatch the marshes,
And feathered pampas-grass rides into the wind
Like aged warriors westward, tragic, thinned
Of half their tribe, and over the flattened rushes,
Stripped of its secret, open, stark and bleak,
Blackens afar the half-forgotten creek,—
Then leans on me the weight of the year, and crushes
My heart.
I know that Beauty must ail and die, And will be born again,—but ah, to see Beauty stiffened, staring up at the sky! Oh, Autumn! Autumn!—What is the Spring to me?