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Posts Tagged ‘Edna St. Vincent Millay’

I

The first rose on my rose-tree
Budded, bloomed, and shattered,
During sad days when to me
Nothing mattered.

Grief of grief has drained me clean;
Still it seems a pity
No one saw, – it must have been
Very pretty.

II

Let the little birds sing;
Let the little lambs play;
Spring is here; and so ’tis spring; –
But not in the old way!

I recall a place
Where a plum-tree grew;
There you lifted up your face,
And blossoms covered you.

If the little birds sing,
And the little lambs play,
Spring is here; and so ’tis spring  –
But not in the old way!

III

All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree!
Ere spring was going – ah, spring is gone!
And there comes no summer to the like of you and me, –
Blossom time is early, but no fruit sets on.

All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree,
Browned at the edges, turned in a day;
And I would with all my heart they trimmed a mound for me,
And weeds were tall on all the paths that led that way!

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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,
Grey 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!

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“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 has wrought in me
Who laugh no more not lift my throat to sing!
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house where I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favour 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 tomorrow 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 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, by 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 wither 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 in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught, – I love Thee more than they
Who serve Thee most; yet serve Thee in now 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.

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Am I  kin to Sorrow,
That so oft
Falls the knocker of my door –
Neither loud nor soft,
But as long accustomed –
Under Sorrow’s hand?
Marigolds around the step
And rosemary stand,
And then comes Sorrow –
And what does Sorrow care
For the rosemary
Or the marigolds there?
Am I kin to Sorrow?
Are we kin?
That so oft upon my door –
Oh, come in!

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No matter what I say,
All that I really love
Is the rain that flattens on the bay,
And the eel-grass in the cove;
The jingle-shells that lie and bleach
At the tide-line, and the trace
Of higher tides along the beach:
Nothing in this place.

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I knew her for a little ghost
That in my garden walked;
The wall is high – higher than most –
And the green gate was locked.

And yet I did not think of that
Till after she was gone –
I knew her by the broad white hat,
All ruffled, she had on,

By the dear ruffles round her feet,
By her small hands that hung
In their lace mitts, austere and sweet,
Her gown’s white folds among.

I watched to see if she would stay,
What she would do – and oh!
She looked as if she liked the way
I let my garden grow!

She bent above my favourite mint
With conscious garden grace.
She smiled and smiled  – there was no hint
Of sadness in her face.

She held her gown on either side
To let her slippers show,
And up the walk she went with pride,
The way great ladies go.

And where the wall is built in new,
And is of ivy bare,
She paused – then opened and passed through
A gate that once was there.

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Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will, – and would that night were here!
But ah! – to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again! – with twilight near!

Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through, –
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.

Love has gone and left me, – and the neighbors knock and borrow,
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, –
And tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow and tomorrow
There’s this little street and this little house.

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I’ll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill’s crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May sit them down and rest.

There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.

There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey’s end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.

Aye, ’tis a curious fancy –
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.

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The trees along this city street,
Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come, –
I know what sound is there.

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Thou are not lovelier than lilacs, – no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
Than small white single poppies, – I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go,
I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
So has it been with mist, – with moonlight so.
Like him who day by day unto his draught
Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
I drink – and live – what has destroyed some men.

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