How Strange A Thing is Death

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The Buck In The Snow

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of the evening the antlered buck
.        . and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them, I saw them
.        . suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed
.         . with snow.

Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding snow.

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing
.        . to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing, – a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow –
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.


Welcome to the new year!  2020 has a nice sound to it.  What will the new decade bring to this planet?  To your community?  To your family?  To your life?

Taking a page out of last year’s playbook, I am going to spend January exploring a retrospective of one poet, this year showcasing Edna St. Vincent Millay.  I’ll do a deep dive into her poetry and some by writers in her inner circle, and share some observations from the outstanding biography of her by Nancy Milford.  In general, start out the new year by enjoying one of the best sonneteers in history.

The story of Edna St. Vincent Millay is a complex one, not easily summarized or generalized.  Her life is one of hard work as a writer and artist, defined in part by chance as much as her courage, her unbending individualism, her passion and tragedies.  Millay did what so few are willing to do, share her joy, her sorrow, her love, her condemnation on the page in a very complex way, regardless of the judgements it created.

Millay’s life begins in 1892, her mother giving birth at St. Vincent’s Hospital in New York City, a teaching hospital founded in 1849 that continued up until 2010 as a vital source of health care in Greenwich Village.  Edna’s mother was so grateful for the generous care she received from the nuns, that she bestowed the name to her oldest daughter as a tribute.  Edna St. Vincent Millay would use that unique and proud moniker to stand out. She submitted her first work to the children’s literary magazine St. Nicholas as E. Vincent Millay as a 12 year old.  The editors correspondence over the following years always began – Master Millay, which she didn’t bother to correct the gender until she was 18. Millay understood from an early age that the world was tipped in favor of men, particularly the world of publishing and poetry during her emergence as a writer.  She never compromised her perspective as a woman, never pandered to the popular or the expected. She wrote with a clear distinctive voice from the very beginning, taking chances that opened some doors and closed others.

Millay is best known for her sonnets on love and relationships, but in preparing for this month’s retrospective, I came to appreciate the complexity of the subjects she encompassed in her poetry throughout her lifetime and the unique brilliance of her writing.  I hope you enjoy the next months journey with me and with Edna St. Vincent Millay.


XLVIII

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Now by the path I climbed, I journey back.
The oaks have grown; I have been long away.
Taking with me your memory and your lack
I now descend into a milder day;
Stripped of your love, unburdened of my hope,
Descend the path I mounted from the plain;
Yet steeper than I fancied seems the slope
And stonier, now that I go down again.
Warm falls the dusk; the clanking of a bell
Faintly ascends upon this heavier air;
I do recall those grassy pastures well:
In early spring they drove the cattle there.
And close at hand should be a shelter, too.
From which the mountain peaks are not in view.

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A Sonnet Obsession

I am a life-long Minnesotan who resides in Minneapolis. I hope you enjoy my curated selection of sonnets, short poems and nerdy ruminations.

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