"Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious." by Lucy Hitz

Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.

08 November 2012 on Blog, Poetry: Serious. Not That Serious.   Tags:

5 Poems: Edna St. Vincent Millay & Her Restless Music

This post is dedicated to Maine's best old gal, Edna St. Vincent Millay. This past summer, I saw a cabaret performance portraying Millay's life, from growing up in Camden, Maine, to her increasingly more fractured relationship with her sisters, to her great loves and eventual succumbing to morphine addiction and alcoholism. While I would argue Dame Edna extinguished her own light too soon—I think she had many more levels of poetry to unlock, including a move away from formalism—I love her work. You cannot beat Millay for music. Some of her poems have the cadence of pop songs, some the sad roughness of a fine-tuned rock ballad, but all are hummed to the tune of restlessness. Please find some especially hot Millay tracks below.

1. This poem goes out to anyone who has refused to let a lover see who he or she really is, with “honest eyes,” minus the “pretty follies.” In so doing, a chance has been missed, the dots have gone unconnected, and fate has aligned itself in a way regrettable to the speaker in “I think I should have loved you presently (Sonnet IX).”

I think I should have loved you presently (Sonnet IX) 

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.

2.  “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII)” is all about going down that laundry list of lovers past, and not being able to recall all the names or events (“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,/I have forgotten”), but knowing two things for sure: that there was joy and excitement in those free-wheelin' times, and that right now you are experiencing a serious dry spell/descent into loneliness (brought to a head in those two killer last lines).

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (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.

3. A song for when you need to escape your mundane little life, meet new people, throw off those chains holding you down, just get on the open road (or next available train, as the case may be):


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 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.

4. Emotions are not always an A à B progression, amirite? Sometimes you feel a certain way, and don't know why. Sometimes, you're feeling fickle. And for those fickle moments touched with a hint of cruelty and carelessness, you can always count on Ms. Millay:


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?

5. And of course, my favorite (perhaps a good life philosophy) (also my oft-proclaimed would-be tattoo):

First Fig

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!

No Comments Yet

Leave a Comment
error: Content is protected !!