“The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
The Harp Weaver
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sometimes when I am wearied suddenly
Of all the things that are the outward you,
And my gaze wanders ere your tale is through
To webs of my own weaving, or I see
Abstractedly your hands about your knee
And wonder why I love you as I do,
Then I recall, “Yet Sorrow thus he drew”;
Then I consider, “Pride thus painted he.”
Oh, friend, forget not, when you fain wound note
In me a beauty that was never mine,
How first you knew me in a book I wrote,
How first you loved me for a written line:
So are we bound till broken in the throat
Of Song, and Art no more leads out the Nine.
Millay’s critics did not like the direct way she dealt with art as Art, love as Love, sorrow as Sorrow and pride as Pride. They felt it too direct and complained endlessly that it was immature, some even going so far to label it as “bad writing.” What is bad writing? I would really like to know. Is it like the definition of pornography in some people’s minds, they really can’t describe it, but they know it when they read it?
All reading, and particularly, reading poetry, is so incredibly subjective and personal. I have poems that I love for one line, one image, one feeling they impart, the rest of it can grate on my ears like fingernails on a chalkboard and it doesn’t bother me a bit, in fact I almost seem to enjoy it more for having to waddle through a bit of stuff I can’t seem to wrap my head around for that moment of clarity that leaps off the page as a complete human connection.
Do people really read poetry for understanding to analyze line by line every intention of the poet? I hope not. Do you go to an art gallery trying to figure out the meaning of every brush stroke of a painting? Do you take in every pixel of a photograph? Of course not. You stand back and you let your eye roam around and land on where it pleases you and then see if the brain can make something of the images in ways that make you think, or laugh, or something else. Why does ART have to be serious? Why does poetry have to make sense? Can it be just an image that our eye finds floating about within the poem and our mind then can land on what we find interesting?
Next time you read a poem or a novel or a news article that you don’t like, its obvious its to your eyes”bad writing,” try this; don’t read it all and don’t read it linearly. Scan it and see it, go to the middle, go the end, and see if you find something your like, something that perks your interest, read that. Who knows what you may find afterwards….
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I know my mind and I have made my choice;
Not from your temper does my doom depend;
Love me or love me not, you have no voice
In this, which is my portion to the end.
Your presence and your favours, the full part
That you could give, you now can take away:
What lies between your beauty and my heart
Not even you can trouble or betray.
Mistake me not – unto my inmost core
I do desire your kiss upon my mouth;
They have not craved a cup of water more
That bleach upon the deserts of the mouth;
Here might you bless me; what you cannot do
Is bow me down, who have been loved by you.
Fatal Interview in my opinion was Millay at the absolute height of her powers as an artist. Many of her most famous sonnets are contained within its pages and it is written during a period of what appears to be the most stability of her life. It is written during her time at Steepletop, the home and farm she shared with her husband, Eugen Boissevain. Their marriage was enduring, successful and met each of their needs to be themselves in all their tortured glory. I reject this idea that longevity is the only measure of a life well lived. To live well in the moment and to string as many of those moments together, like pearls, whether it is a long chain or a single beautiful ball of shining hardened mucus. Vincent bet her fortune on love and left nothing for retirement. She never intended to get old. It was not her idea of a good idea.
By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Heart, have no pity on this house of bone:
Shake it with dancing, break it down with joy.
No man holds mortgage on it, it is your own;
To give, to sell at auction, to destroy.
When you are blind to moonlight on the bed,
When you are deaf to gravel on the pane,
Shall quavering caution from this house instead
Chuck forth at summer mischief in the lane?
All that delightful youth forbears to spend
Molestful age inherits, and the ground
Will have us, therefore, while we’re young, my friend —
The Latin’s vulgar, but the advice is sound.
Youth have no pity, leave no farthing here
For age to invest in compromise and fear.