Wednesday, March 3, 2010


I first came across groundbreaking poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay during my college years. She came to me at dawn through the lips of a friend after one of those seemingly pointless (to my mother at least) marathon nights that seemed to be the norm back then:

"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"
(The Candle)

"Who is she?" I asked and was regaled with stories of gusto, ingenuity and vengeance. The fact that she was a strong and independent woman not afraid of her sexuality or bisexuality and so willing to take risks intrigued me. How could it not when I felt I was just the opposite! "How jaded!" I marvelled, already half hooked.

After looking up her poetry I was deeply moved as her unfettered creativity and expansive mind touched my soul in an inexplicably tender way, even though at the time I did not have the life experiences required to fully fathom her genius. In her journal she writes, "What life I have lived I have lived doubly, actually and symbolically." This excited me almost as much as her poetry itself.

All this thinking of "hologram selves", the passage of time and memories recently reminded me of a sonnet by Millay (written in 1923, the year she married) where she seems to say goodbye to the past and anticipates the future. I find it is quite a metaphysical poem descriptive of both unearthly joy and all too earthly pain. It seems to express feelings I am going through at the moment. So here it is, for your enjoyment.

Sonnet XLIII

"What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning, but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, '
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more."

Do you have a poem that describes your mood at this moment? Please feel free to share...

* The photo of Edna St. Vincent Millay is by Carl Van Vechten and is archived at the Smithsonian.


Robin said...

I promise to come back and think of something to say about your actual blog. Right now my mind is a migraine yucky place so I got nothing. But I see that you got the linkwithin to work. Yay! It's looking good. And, no, it just randomly selects the blogs per post.

Purple Cow said...

Get well soon...I know what it is like to have migraines. It doesn't have to be a poem, it can be an artwork (Edvard Munch's "Scream" perhaps?), a song, a recipe, anything... who knows? I may learn something new...