Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay
From Huntsman, What Quarry?
I SONNET IN ANSWER TO A QUESTION Oh, she was beautiful in every part! — The auburn hair that bound the subtle brain; The lovely mouth cut clear by wit and pain, Uttering oaths and nonsense, uttering art In casual speech and curving at the smart On startled ears of excellence too plain For early morning! — Obit. Death from strain; The soaring mind outstripped the tethered heart. Yet here was one who had no need to die To be remembered. Every word she said, The lively malice of the hazel eye Scanning the thumb-nail close — oh, dazzling dead, How like a comet through the darkening sky You raced! . . . would your return were heralded. II Nobody now throughout the pleasant day, The flowers well tended and the friends not few, Teases my mind as only you could do To mortal combat erudite and gay . . . "So Mr. S. was kind to Mr. K.! Whilst Mr. K. — wait, I've a word or two!" (I think that Keats and Shelley died with you — They live on paper now, another way.) You left in time, too soon; to leave too soon Was tragic and in order — had the great Not taught us how to die? — My simple blood, Loving you early, lives to mourn you late . . . As Mr. K., it may be, would have done; As Mr. S. (oh answer!) never would. III Now that the west is washed of clouds and clear, The sun gone under his beams laid by, You, that require a quarter of the sky To shine alone in: prick the dusk, appear, Beautiful Venus! The dense atmosphere Cannot diffuse your rays, you blaze so high, Lighting with loveliness a crisp and dry Cold evening in the autumn of the year. The pilot standing by his broken plane In the unheard-of mountains, looks on you, And warms his heart a moment at your light . . . Benignant planet, sweet, familiar sight . . . Thinking he may be found, he may again Se home, breaks the stale, buttered crust in two. IV Be sure my coming was a sharp offense And trouble to my mother in her bed; And harsh to me must be my going hence, Though I were old and spent and better dead; Between the awful spears of birth and death I run a grassy gauntlet in the sun; And curdled in me is my central pith, Remembering there is dying to be done. O life, my little day, at what cost Have you been purchased! What a bargain's here! (And yet, thou canny Lender, thou hast lost: Thumb thy fat book until my debt appear: So . . . art thou stuck? . . . thou canst not strike that through For the small dying that a man can do!) V Enormous moon, that rise behind these hills Heavy and yellow in a sky unstarred And pale, your girth by purple fillets barred Of drifting cloud, that as the cool sky fills With planets and the brighter stars, distills To thinnest vapor and floats valley-ward, — You flood with radiance all this cluttered yard, The sagging fence, the chipping window sills! Grateful at heart as if for my delight You rose, I watch you through a mist of tears, Thinking how man, who gags upon despair, Salting his hunger with the sweat of fright Has fed on cold indifference all these years, Praying God to make him worthy of such care. VI Now let the mouth of wailing for a time Be shut, ye happy mourners; and return To the marked door, the ribbon and the fern, Without a tear. The good man in his prime, The pretty child, the Gone — from a fair clime Above the ashes of the solemn urn Behold you; wherefore, then, these hearts that burn With hot remorse, these cheeks the tears begrime? Grief that is grief and worthy of that word Is ours alone for whom no hope can be That the loved eyes look down and understand. Ye true believers, trusters in the Lord, Today bereft, tomorrow hand in hand, Think ye not shame to show your tears to me? VII I, too, beneath your moon, almighty Sex, Go forth at nightfall crying like a cat, Leaving the ivory 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 is reared To Beauty, it is 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. VIII When did I ever deny, though this was fleeting, That this was love? When did I ever, I say, With iron thumb put out the eyes of day In this cold world where charity lies bleating Under a thorn, and none to give him greeting, And all that lights endeavor on its way Is the teased lamp of loving, the torn ray Of the least kind, the most clandestine meeting? As God's my judge, I do cry holy, holy, Upon the name of love however brief, For want of whose ill-trimmed, aspiring wick More days than one I have gone forward slowly In utter dark, scuffling the drifted leaf, Tapping the road before me with a stick. IX Thou famished grave, I will not fill thee yet, Roar though thou dost, I am too happy here; Gnaw thine own sides, fast on; I have no fear Of thy dark project, but my heart is set On living — I have heroes to beget Before I die; I will not come anear Thy dismal jaws for many a splendid year; Till I be old, I aim not to be eat. I cannot starve thee out: I am thy prey And thou shalt have me; but I dare defend That I can stave thee off; and I dare say, What with the life I lead, the force I spend, I'll be but bones and jewels on that day, And leave thee hungry even in the end. X Upon this age, that never speaks its mind, This furtive age, this age endowed with power To wake the moon with footsteps, fit an oar Into the rowlocks of the wind, and find What swims before his prow, what swirls behind — Upon this gifted age, in its dark hour, Falls from the sky a meteoric shower Of facts . . . they lie unquestioned, uncombined. Wisdom enough to leech us of our ill Is daily spun; but there exists no loom To weave it into fabric; undefiled Proceeds pure Science, and has her say; but still Upon this world from the collective womb Is spewed all day the red triumphant child. XI Count them unclean, these tears that turn no mill, This salty flux of sorrow from the heart; Count them unclean, and give me one day still To weep, in an avoided room apart. I shall come forth at length with reddened lid Transparent, and thick mouth, and take the plough . . . That other men may hope, as I once did; That other men may weep, as I do now. I am beside you, I am at your back Firing our bridges, I am in your van; I share your march, your hunger; all I lack Is the strong song I cannot sing, you can. You think we build a world; I think we leave Only these tools, wherewith to strain and grieve. XII My earnestness, which might at first offend, Forgive me, for the duty it implies: I am the convoy to the cloudy end Of a most bright and regal enterprise; Which under angry constellations, ill- Mounted and under-rationed and unspurred, Set forth to find if any country still Might do obeisance to an honest word. Duped and delivered up to rascals; bound And bleeding, and his mouth stuffed; on his knees; Robbed and imprisoned; and adjudged unsound; I have beheld my master, if you please. Forgive my earnestness, who at his side Received his swift instructions, till he died.
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