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Two poems By Millay


By Edna St. Vincent Millay
We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable—
But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table,
We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon;
And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry—
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry;
And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear,
From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere;
And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold,
And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry,
We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry.
We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head,
And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read;
And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears,
And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

Source: Poetry (May 1919).

MacDougal Street

AS I went walking up and down to take the evening air,

(Sweet to meet upon the street, why must I be so shy?)

I saw him lay his hand upon her torn black hair;

("Little dirty Latin child, let the lady by!")

The women squatting on the stoops were slovenly and fat,

(Lay me out in organdie, lay me out in lawn!)

And everywhere I stepped there was a baby or a cat;

(Lord, God in Heaven, will it ever be dawn?)

The fruit-carts and clam-carts were ribald as a fair,

(Pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel)

She had haggled from the fruit man of his rotting ware;

(I shall never get to sleep, the way I feel!)

He walked like a king through the filth and the clutter,

(Sweet to meet upon the street, why did you glance me by?)

But he caught the faint Italian quip she flung him from the gutter;

(What can there be to cry about, that I should lie and cry?)

He laid his darling hand upon her little black head,

(I wish I were a ragged child with earrings in my ears!)

And he said she was a baggage to have said what she had said;

(Truly I shall be ill unless I stop these tears!)

What do you all think of these? She lived in New York in the 1920's. She has fallen out of favor in the last 50 years, her poems seem too simple, I think. But when I was younger they moved me greatly. I had the mother of a friend of mine give me her old battered copy of 'A few figs from thistles' I sat in my room for hours, reading and weeping.

Millay wrote about her love affairs with both men and women, she wrote about duty and religion, and social justice. She was one of the most vocal protesters of the conviction of Sacco and Vanzetti. In short, I think she has real substance.

I love 'Recurdo' entirely. And it is still relevant. People still ride around on the Staten Island ferry just for fun.

The second poem has not aged as well. It makes me uncomfortable. I think it is meant to do, though. But the writing is so forceful and clear, like being poked with something sharp.

Anyway, curious to know what you all think.



( 6 comments — Leave a comment )
Jul. 18th, 2013 02:06 pm (UTC)
I love Millay. I fell in love with her when I opened a book on the first page, and saw the first lines of Renascence.

"All I could see from where I stood
Were three long mountains and a wood..."

Her poetry has substance, yes. And meaning - she's not afraid to write about the Undefined, as she puts it. It also has texture, if that makes any sense. There are some lines that I want to say over and over, just to feel the taste of them.

Recuerdo is a rare thing, when you think about it - a poem about simple happiness, not death or pain or passion. It's not even about rapturous joy - those are more plentiful. But a poem about contentment? Some people would say there was nothing to write about. I'm glad Millay disagreed.

(I've recently been picking at "Inland". Figuring out how I would real it aloud, mostly. Especially the final line. Delivering that strongly but without hysterics is... challenging.)
Jul. 19th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC)
I agree about texture. She was not afraid of the sound of her words.

I always felt as if inland was speaking to me. I was kid who grew up with the sound of the ocean, every day-- an hours walk from an uninhabited Atlantic beach, where I swam, day or night, naked and alone as often as I could get loose to do it.

Then at 15 I was packed off to boarding school in the mountains. I took Millay with me, and wept. I am sure I was insufferable. But i felt that she had been there before me, and she would have understood.
Jul. 18th, 2013 04:19 pm (UTC)
I often find poetry intimidating. I always wonder if I'm reading "my stuff" into it, not getting at what the poet was feeling when he/she wrote it.

The first is pretty cool!New love, infatuation, when you can't get enough of each other (riding the ferry all night!)

The second is harder. She wants to know this man better, to be touched tenderly, as he touches the young girl's head?
Jul. 19th, 2013 12:41 am (UTC)
I am not sure what to make of the second one-- but it is very lovely, and it makes me sad.
Jul. 18th, 2013 05:32 pm (UTC)
My favorite poet. I love sonnets and she was a master sonnateer. "What lips my lips have kissed..." was a transformational poem for me, in some ways it turned me into an adult, somehow breaking through to me in a profound way that I too would grow old. I read it regularly, it always makes me cry.

Oh, and I like the second poem muchly, I don't recall reading it before. So bitter and lovely!

Edited at 2013-07-18 05:34 pm (UTC)
Jul. 19th, 2013 12:43 am (UTC)
Yes! Bitter and lovely.

I too loved "What lips my lips have kissed" It made me, at 15, feel as if someday i would look back on a lifetime of experience that I then had not had yet. I had a sort of anticipatory sorrow that had to do with the first awareness of time passing.

Do you know 'I shall die, but that is all I shall do for death.'

They are all so good.

Edited at 2013-07-19 12:55 am (UTC)
( 6 comments — Leave a comment )