Saturday, July 22, 2006

The Sea Below

Another one of my favorites is Edna Saint Vincent Millay. Her 1923 Pulitzer was certainly deserved, and she was a sonneteer with perhaps only one equal.

"First Fig" always reminds me of the scene in the Marx Brother's "Horse Feathers" in which Groucho tells Harpo he'd better slow down because he's "burning his candle at both ends" and then Harpo reaches into his infamous overcoat and pulls out a candle lit at both ends!

Though I have personal favorites among her sonnets, this is a poem that is resurgently important:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, Conscientious Objector (1931)

I shall die, but
that is all that I shall do for Death.
I hear him leading his horse out of the stall;
I hear the clatter on the barn-floor.
He is in haste; he has business in Cuba,
business in the Balkans, many calls to make this morning.
But I will not hold the bridle
while he clinches the girth.
And he may mount by himself:
I will not give him a leg up.

Though he flick my shoulders with his whip,
I will not tell him which way the fox ran.
With his hoof on my breast, I will not tell him where
the black boy hides in the swamp.
I shall die, but that is all that I shall do for Death;
I am not on his pay-roll.

I will not tell him the whereabouts of my friends
nor of my enemies either.
Though he promise me much,
I will not map him the route to any man's door.
Am I a spy in the land of the living,
that I should deliver men to Death?
Brother, the password and the plans of our city
are safe with me; never through me Shall you be overcome.

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