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Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay

From The Buck in the Snow

I

Life, were thy pains as are the pains of hell,

So hardly to be borne, yet to be borne,

And all thy bows more grim with wasp and thorn

Than armoured bough stood ever; too chill to spell

With the warm tongue, and sharp with broken shell

Thy ways, whereby in wincing haste forlorn

The desperate foot must travel, blind and torn,

Yet must I cry: So be it; it is well.

So fair to me thy vineyards, nor less fair

Than the sweet heaven my fathers hoped to gain;

So bright this earthly blossom spiked with care,

This harvest hung behind the boughs of pain,

Needs must I gather, guessing by the stain

I bleed, but know not wherefore, know not where.

 

II

Grow not too high, grow not too far from home,

Green tree, whose roots are in the granite's face!

Taller than silver spire or golden dome

A tree may grow above its earthly place,

And taller than a cloud, but not so tall

The root may not be mother to the stem,

Lifting rich plenty, though the rivers fall,

To the cold sunny leaves to nourish them.

Have done with blossoms for a time, be bare;

Split rock; plunge downward; take heroic soil, —

Deeper than bones, no pasture for you there;

Deeper than water, deeper than gold and oil:

Earth's fiery core alone can feed the bough

That blooms between Orion and the Plough.

 

III

Not that it matters, not that my heart's cry

Is potent to reflect our common doom,

Or bind to truce in this ambiguous room

The planets of the atoms as they ply;

But only to record that you and I,

Like thieves that scratch the jewels from a tomb,

Have gathered delicate love in hardy bloom

Close under Chaos, — I rise to testify.

This is my testament: that we are taken;

Out colors are clouds before the wind;

Yet for a moment stood the foe forsaken,

Eyeing Love's favour to our helmet pinned;

Death is our Master, — but his seat is shaken;

He rides victorious, — but his ranks are thinned.

 

Sonnet to Gath

Country of hunchbacks! — where the strong, straight spine,

Jeered at by crooked children, makes his way

Through by-streets at the kindest hour of the day,

Till he deplore his stature, and incline

To measure manhood with a gibbous line;

Till out of loneliness, being flawed with clay,

He stoop into his neighbor's house and say,

"Your roof is low for me — the fault is mine."

Dust in an urn long since, dispersed and dead

Is great Apollo; and the happier he;

Since who amongst you all would lift a head

At a god's radiance on the mean door-tree,

Saving to run and hide your dates and bread,

And cluck your children in about your knee?

 

To Inez Milholland

Upon this marble bust that is not I

Lay the round, formal wreath that is not fame;

But in the forum of my silenced cry

Root ye the living tree whose sap is flame.

I, that was proud and valiant, am no more; —

Save as a dream that wanders wide and late,

Save as a wind that rattles the stout door,

Troubling the ashes in the sheltered grate.

The stone shall perish; I shall be twice dust.

Only my standard on a taken hill

Can cheat the mildew and the red-brown rust

And make immortal my adventurous will.

Even now the silk is tugging at the staff:

Take up the song; forget the epitaph.

 

To Jesus on His Birthday

For this your mother sweated in the cold,

For this you bled upon the bitter tree:

A yard of tinsel ribbon bought and sold;

A paper wreath; a day at home for me.

The merry bells ring out, the people kneel;

Up goes the man of God before the crowd;

With voice of honey and with eyes of steel

He drones your humble gospel to the proud.

Nobody listens. Less than the wind that blows

Are all your words to us you died to save.

O Prince of Peace! O Sharon's dewy Rose!

How mute you lie within your vaulted grave.

The stone the angel rolled away with tears

Is back upon your mouth these thousand years.

 

On Hearing a Symphony of Beethoven

Sweet sounds, oh, beautiful music, do not cease!

Reject me not into the world again.

With you alone is excellence and peace,

Mankind made plausible, his purpose plain.

Enchanted in your air benign and shrewd,

With limbs a-sprawl and empty faces pale,

The spiteful and the stinging and the rude

Sleep like the scullions in the fairy-tale.

This moment is the best the world can give:

The tranquil blossom on the tortured stem.

Reject me not, sweet sounds! oh, let me live,

Till doom espy my towers and scatter them.

A city spell-bound under the aging sun,

Music my rampart, and my only one.

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