Poets' Corner Home Page . News and Recent Additions
Poets' Corner Logo

Poems:

Sonnets:

  • I
     Thou art not lovelier than lilacs, -- no,

  • II
     Time does not bring relief; you all have lied

  • III
     Mindful of you the sodden earth in spring,

  • IV
     Not in this chamber only at my birth --

  • V
     If I should learn, in some quite casual way,

  • VI -- Bluebeard
     This door you might not open, and you did;

Other Poems in the collection
by Edna St.Vincent Millay


Renascence
and Other Poems

by Edna St.Vincent Millay

[1917]


    Renascence

    ALL I could see from where I stood
    Was three long mountains and a wood;
    I turned and looked another way,
    And saw three islands in a bay.
    So with my eyes I traced the line
    Of the horizon, thin and fine,
    Straight around till I was come
    Back to where I'd started from;
    And all I saw from where I stood
    Was three long mountains and a wood.
    Over these things I could not see;
    These were the things that bounded me;
    And I could touch them with my hand,
    Almost, I thought, from where I stand.
    And all at once things seemed so small
    My breath came short, and scarce at all.
    But, sure, the sky is big, I said;
    Miles and miles above my head;
    So here upon my back I'll lie
    And look my fill into the sky.
    And so I looked, and, after all,
    The sky was not so very tall.
    The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,
    And -- sure enough! -- I see the top!
    The sky, I thought, is not so grand;
    I 'most could touch it with my hand!
    And reaching up my hand to try,
    I screamed to feel it touch the sky.
    I screamed, and -- lo! -- Infinity
    Came down and settled over me;
    Forced back my scream into my chest,
    Bent back my arm upon my breast,
    And, pressing of the Undefined
    The definition on my mind,
    Held up before my eyes a glass
    Through which my shrinking sight did pass
    Until it seemed I must behold
    Immensity made manifold;
    Whispered to me a word whose sound
    Deafened the air for worlds around,
    And brought unmuffled to my ears
    The gossiping of friendly spheres,
    The creaking of the tented sky,
    The ticking of Eternity.
    I saw and heard, and knew at last
    The How and Why of all things, past,
    And present, and forevermore.
    The Universe, cleft to the core,
    Lay open to my probing sense
    That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence
    But could not, -- nay! But needs must suck
    At the great wound, and could not pluck
    My lips away till I had drawn
    All venom out. -- Ah, fearful pawn!
    For my omniscience paid I toll
    In infinite remorse of soul.
    All sin was of my sinning, all
    Atoning mine, and mine the gall
    Of all regret. Mine was the weight
    Of every brooded wrong, the hate
    That stood behind each envious thrust,
    Mine every greed, mine every lust.
    And all the while for every grief,
    Each suffering, I craved relief
    With individual desire, --
    Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire
    About a thousand people crawl;
    Perished with each, -- then mourned for all!
    A man was starving in Capri;
    He moved his eyes and looked at me;
    I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,
    And knew his hunger as my own.
    I saw at sea a great fog bank
    Between two ships that struck and sank;
    A thousand screams the heavens smote;
    And every scream tore through my throat.
    No hurt I did not feel, no death
    That was not mine; mine each last breath
    That, crying, met an answering cry
    From the compassion that was I.
    All suffering mine, and mine its rod;
    Mine, pity like the pity of God.
    Ah, awful weight! Infinity
    Pressed down upon the finite Me!
    My anguished spirit, like a bird,
    Beating against my lips I heard;
    Yet lay the weight so close about
    There was no room for it without.
    And so beneath the weight lay I
    And suffered death, but could not die.

    Long had I lain thus, craving death,
    When quietly the earth beneath
    Gave way, and inch by inch, so great
    At last had grown the crushing weight,
    Into the earth I sank till I
    Full six feet under ground did lie,
    And sank no more, -- there is no weight
    Can follow here, however great.
    From off my breast I felt it roll,
    And as it went my tortured soul
    Burst forth and fled in such a gust
    That all about me swirled the dust.

    Deep in the earth I rested now;
    Cool is its hand upon the brow
    And soft its breast beneath the head
    Of one who is so gladly dead.
    And all at once, and over all
    The pitying rain began to fall;
    I lay and heard each pattering hoof
    Upon my lowly, thatched roof,
    And seemed to love the sound far more
    Than ever I had done before.
    For rain it hath a friendly sound
    To one who's six feet underground;
    And scarce the friendly voice or face:
    A grave is such a quiet place.

    The rain, I said, is kind to come
    And speak to me in my new home.
    I would I were alive again
    To kiss the fingers of the rain,
    To drink into my eyes the shine
    Of every slanting silver line,
    To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze
    From drenched and dripping apple-trees.
    For soon the shower will be done,
    And then the broad face of the sun
    Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth
    Until the world with answering mirth
    Shakes joyously, and each round drop
    Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.
    How can I bear it; buried here,
    While overhead the sky grows clear
    And blue again after the storm?
    O, multi-colored, multiform,
    Beloved beauty over me,
    That I shall never, never see
    Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold,
    That I shall never more behold!
    Sleeping your myriad magics through,
    Close-sepulchred away from you!
    O God, I cried, give me new birth,
    And put me back upon the earth!
    Upset each cloud's gigantic gourd
    And let the heavy rain, down-poured
    In one big torrent, set me free,
    Washing my grave away from me!

    I ceased; and through the breathless hush
    That answered me, the far-off rush
    Of herald wings came whispering
    Like music down the vibrant string
    Of my ascending prayer, and -- crash!
    Before the wild wind's whistling lash
    The startled storm-clouds reared on high
    And plunged in terror down the sky,
    And the big rain in one black wave
    Fell from the sky and struck my grave.
    I know not how such things can be;
    I only know there came to me
    A fragrance such as never clings
    To aught save happy living things;
    A sound as of some joyous elf
    Singing sweet songs to please himself,
    And, through and over everything,
    A sense of glad awakening.
    The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,
    Whispering to me I could hear;
    I felt the rain's cool finger-tips
    Brushed tenderly across my lips,
    Laid gently on my sealed sight,
    And all at once the heavy night
    Fell from my eyes and I could see, --
    A drenched and dripping apple-tree,
    A last long line of silver rain,
    A sky grown clear and blue again.
    And as I looked a quickening gust
    Of wind blew up to me and thrust
    Into my face a miracle
    Of orchard-breath, and with the smell, --
    I know not how such things can be! --
    I breathed my soul back into me.
    Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I
    And hailed the earth with such a cry
    As is not heard save from a man
    Who has been dead, and lives again.
    About the trees my arms I wound;
    Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;
    I raised my quivering arms on high;
    I laughed and laughed into the sky,
    Till at my throat a strangling sob
    Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb
    Sent instant tears into my eyes;
    O God, I cried, no dark disguise
    Can e'er hereafter hide from me
    Thy radiant identity!
    Thou canst not move across the grass
    But my quick eyes will see Thee pass,
    Nor speak, however silently,
    But my hushed voice will answer Thee.
    I know the path that tells Thy way
    Through the cool eve of every day;
    God, I can push the grass apart
    And lay my finger on Thy heart!

    The world stands out on either side
    No wider than the heart is wide;
    Above the world is stretched the sky, --
    No higher than the soul is high.
    The heart can push the sea and land
    Farther away on either hand;
    The soul can split the sky in two,
    And let the face of God shine through.
    But East and West will pinch the heart
    That can not keep them pushed apart;
    And he whose soul is flat -- the sky
    Will cave in on him by and by.


    Interim

    THE room is full of you! -- As I came in
    And closed the door behind me, all at once
    A something in the air, intangible,
    Yet stiff with meaning, struck my senses sick! --

    Sharp, unfamiliar odors have destroyed
    Each other room's dear personality.
    The heavy scent of damp, funereal flowers, --
    The very essence, hush-distilled, of Death --
    Has strangled that habitual breath of home
    Whose expiration leaves all houses dead;
    And wheresoe'er I look is hideous change.
    Save here. Here 'twas as if a weed-choked gate
    Had opened at my touch, and I had stepped
    Into some long-forgot, enchanted, strange,
    Sweet garden of a thousand years ago
    And suddenly thought, "I have been here before!"

    You are not here. I know that you are gone,
    And will not ever enter here again.
    And yet it seems to me, if I should speak,
    Your silent step must wake across the hall;
    If I should turn my head, that your sweet eyes
    Would kiss me from the door. -- So short a time
    To teach my life its transposition to
    This difficult and unaccustomed key! --
    The room is as you left it; your last touch --
    A thoughtless pressure, knowing not itself
    As saintly -- hallows now each simple thing;
    Hallows and glorifies, and glows between
    The dust's grey fingers like a shielded light.

    There is your book, just as you laid it down,
    Face to the table, -- I cannot believe
    That you are gone! -- Just then it seemed to me
    You must be here. I almost laughed to think
    How like reality the dream had been;
    Yet knew before I laughed, and so was still.
    That book, outspread, just as you laid it down!
    Perhaps you thought, "I wonder what comes next,
    And whether this or this will be the end";
    So rose, and left it, thinking to return.

    Perhaps that chair, when you arose and passed
    Out of the room, rocked silently a while
    Ere it again was still. When you were gone
    Forever from the room, perhaps that chair,
    Stirred by your movement, rocked a little while,
    Silently, to and fro. . .

    And here are the last words your fingers wrote,
    Scrawled in broad characters across a page
    In this brown book I gave you. Here your hand,
    Guiding your rapid pen, moved up and down.
    Here with a looping knot you crossed a "t",
    And here another like it, just beyond
    These two eccentric "e's". You were so small,
    And wrote so brave a hand!
                               How strange it seems
    That of all words these are the words you chose!
    And yet a simple choice; you did not know
    You would not write again. If you had known --
    But then, it does not matter, -- and indeed
    If you had known there was so little time
    You would have dropped your pen and come to me
    And this page would be empty, and some phrase
    Other than this would hold my wonder now.
    Yet, since you could not know, and it befell
    That these are the last words your fingers wrote,
    There is a dignity some might not see
    In this, "I picked the first sweet-pea to-day."
    To-day! Was there an opening bud beside it
    You left until to-morrow? -- O my love,
    The things that withered, -- and you came not back!
    That day you filled this circle of my arms
    That now is empty. (O my empty life!)
    That day -- that day you picked the first sweet-pea, --
    And brought it in to show me! I recall
    With terrible distinctness how the smell
    Of your cool gardens drifted in with you.
    I know, you held it up for me to see
    And flushed because I looked not at the flower,
    But at your face; and when behind my look
    You saw such unmistakable intent
    You laughed and brushed your flower against my lips.
    (You were the fairest thing God ever made,
    I think.) And then your hands above my heart
    Drew down its stem into a fastening,
    And while your head was bent I kissed your hair.
    I wonder if you knew. (Beloved hands!
    Somehow I cannot seem to see them still.
    Somehow I cannot seem to see the dust
    In your bright hair.) What is the need of Heaven
    When earth can be so sweet? -- If only God
    Had let us love, -- and show the world the way!
    Strange cancellings must ink th' eternal books
    When love-crossed-out will bring the answer right!
    That first sweet-pea! I wonder where it is.
    It seems to me I laid it down somewhere,
    And yet, -- I am not sure. I am not sure,
    Even, if it was white or pink; for then
    'Twas much like any other flower to me,
    Save that it was the first. I did not know,
    Then, that it was the last. If I had known --
    But then, it does not matter. Strange how few,
    After all's said and done, the things that are
    Of moment.
         Few indeed! When I can make
    Of ten small words a rope to hang the world!
    "I had you and I have you now no more."
    There, there it dangles, -- where's the little truth
    That can for long keep footing under that
    When its slack syllables tighten to a thought?
    Here, let me write it down! I wish to see
    Just how a thing like that will look on paper!

    "I had you and I have you now no more."

    O little words, how can you run so straight
    Across the page, beneath the weight you bear?
    How can you fall apart, whom such a theme
    Has bound together, and hereafter aid
    In trivial expression, that have been
    So hideously dignified? -- Would God
    That tearing you apart would tear the thread
    I strung you on! Would God -- O God, my mind
    Stretches asunder on this merciless rack
    Of imagery! O, let me sleep a while!
    Would I could sleep, and wake to find me back
    In that sweet summer afternoon with you.
    Summer? 'Tis summer still by the calendar!
    How easily could God, if He so willed,
    Set back the world a little turn or two!
    Correct its griefs, and bring its joys again!

    We were so wholly one I had not thought
    That we could die apart. I had not thought
    That I could move, -- and you be stiff and still!
    That I could speak, -- and you perforce be dumb!
    I think our heart-strings were, like warp and woof
    In some firm fabric, woven in and out;
    Your golden filaments in fair design
    Across my duller fibre. And to-day
    The shining strip is rent; the exquisite
    Fine pattern is destroyed; part of your heart
    Aches in my breast; part of my heart lies chilled
    In the damp earth with you. I have been torn
    In two, and suffer for the rest of me.
    What is my life to me? And what am I
    To life, -- a ship whose star has guttered out?
    A Fear that in the deep night starts awake
    Perpetually, to find its senses strained
    Against the taut strings of the quivering air,
    Awaiting the return of some dread chord?

    Dark, Dark, is all I find for metaphor;
    All else were contrast, -- save that contrast's wall
    Is down, and all opposed things flow together
    Into a vast monotony, where night
    And day, and frost and thaw, and death and life,
    Are synonyms. What now -- what now to me
    Are all the jabbering birds and foolish flowers
    That clutter up the world? You were my song!
    Now, let discord scream! You were my flower!
    Now let the world grow weeds! For I shall not
    Plant things above your grave -- (the common balm
    Of the conventional woe for its own wound!)
    Amid sensations rendered negative
    By your elimination stands to-day,
    Certain, unmixed, the element of grief;
    I sorrow; and I shall not mock my truth
    With travesties of suffering, nor seek
    To effigy its incorporeal bulk
    In little wry-faced images of woe.

    I cannot call you back; and I desire
    No utterance of my immaterial voice.
    I cannot even turn my face this way
    Or that, and say, "My face is turned to you";
    I know not where you are, I do not know
    If Heaven hold you or if earth transmute,
    Body and soul, you into earth again;
    But this I know: -- not for one second's space
    Shall I insult my sight with visionings
    Such as the credulous crowd so eager-eyed
    Beholds, self-conjured, in the empty air.
    Let the world wail! Let drip its easy tears!
    My sorrow shall be dumb!

    -- What do I say?
    God! God! -- God pity me! Am I gone mad
    That I should spit upon a rosary?
    Am I become so shrunken? Would to God
    I too might feel that frenzied faith whose touch
    Makes temporal the most enduring grief;
    Though it must walk a while, as is its wont,
    With wild lamenting! Would I too might weep
    Where weeps the world and hangs its piteous wreaths
    For its new dead! Not Truth, but Faith, it is
    That keeps the world alive. If all at once
    Faith were to slacken, -- that unconscious faith
    Which must, I know, yet be the corner-stone
    Of all believing, -- birds now flying fearless
    Across would drop in terror to the earth;
    Fishes would drown; and the all-governing reins
    Would tangle in the frantic hands of God
    And the worlds gallop headlong to destruction!

    O God, I see it now, and my sick brain
    Staggers and swoons! How often over me
    Flashes this breathlessness of sudden sight
    In which I see the universe unrolled
    Before me like a scroll and read thereon
    Chaos and Doom, where helpless planets whirl
    Dizzily round and round and round and round,
    Like tops across a table, gathering speed
    With every spin, to waver on the edge
    One instant -- looking over -- and the next
    To shudder and lurch forward out of sight --

         *    *    *    *    *

    Ah, I am worn out -- I am wearied out --
    It is too much -- I am but flesh and blood,
    And I must sleep. Though you were dead again,
    I am but flesh and blood and I must sleep.


    The Suicide

    "CURSE thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
    Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
    And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
    I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
    That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
    With deprecations, and thy blows with tears, --
    Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away,
    As if spent passion were a holiday!
    And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow
    Of tardy kindness can avail thee now
    With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown;
    Lonely I came, and I depart alone,
    And know not where nor unto whom I go;
    But that thou canst not follow me I know."

    Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain
    My thought ran still, until I spake again:

    "Ah, but I go not as I came, -- no trace
    Is mine to bear away of that old grace
    I brought! I have been heated in thy fires,
    Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires,
    Thy mark is on me! I am not the same
    Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
    Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
    In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed
    Is wakeful for alarm, -- oh, shame to thee,
    For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me,
    Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing!
    Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
    To have about the house when I was grown
    If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
    I asked of thee no favor save this one:
    That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
    And this thou didst deny, calling my name
    Insistently, until I rose and came.
    I saw the sun no more. -- It were not well
    So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
    Need I arise to-morrow and renew
    Again my hated tasks, but I am through
    With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
    So that in truth I seem already quite
    Free and remote from thee, -- I feel no haste
    And no reluctance to depart; I taste
    Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught,
    That in a little while I shall have quaffed."

    Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled,
    Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed
    Before me one by one till once again
    I set new words unto an old refrain:

    "Treasures thou hast that never have been mine!
    Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine
    Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown
    Like blossoms out to me that sat alone!
    And I have waited well for thee to show
    If any share were mine, -- and now I go!
    Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain
    I shall but come into mine own again!"
    Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more,
    But turning, straightway, sought a certain door
    In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low
    And dark, -- a way by which none e'er would go
    That other exit had, and never knock
    Was heard thereat, -- bearing a curious lock
    Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily,
    Whereof Life held content the useless key,
    And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust,
    Whose sudden voice across a silence must,
    I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear, --
    A strange door, ugly like a dwarf. -- So near
    I came I felt upon my feet the chill
    Of acid wind creeping across the sill.
    So stood longtime, till over me at last
    Came weariness, and all things other passed
    To make it room; the still night drifted deep
    Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.

    But, suddenly, marking the morning hour,
    Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower!
    Startled, I raised my head, -- and with a shout
    Laid hold upon the latch, -- and was without.

         *    *    *    *    *

    Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road,
    Leading me back unto my old abode,
    My father's house! There in the night I came,
    And found them feasting, and all things the same
    As they had been before. A splendour hung
    Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung
    As, echoing out of very long ago,
    Had called me from the house of Life, I know.
    So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame
    On the unlovely garb in which I came;
    Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked:
    "It is my father's house!" I said and knocked;
    And the door opened. To the shining crowd
    Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
    Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
    And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.
    Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
    I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
    My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
    All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
    None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
    Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.

    I know not when the wonder came to me
    Of what my father's business might be,
    And whither fared and on what errands bent
    The tall and gracious messengers he sent.
    Yet one day with no song from dawn till night
    Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight.
    And the next day I called; and on the third
    Asked them if I might go, -- but no one heard.
    Then, sick with longing, I arose at last
    And went unto my father, -- in that vast
    Chamber wherein he for so many years
    Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres.
    "Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
    The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
    I sit in idleness, while to and fro
    About me thy serene, grave servants go;
    And I am weary of my lonely ease.
    Better a perilous journey overseas
    Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
    To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
    That grows to naught, -- I love thee more than they
    Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
    Father, I beg of thee a little task
    To dignify my days, -- 'tis all I ask
    Forever, but forever, this denied,
    I perish."
    "Child," my father's voice replied,
    "All things thy fancy hath desired of me
    Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee
    Within my house a spacious chamber, where
    Are delicate things to handle and to wear,
    And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song?
    My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
    Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand
    Open as fields to thee on every hand.
    And all thy days this word shall hold the same:
    No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
    But as for tasks --" he smiled, and shook his head;
    "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by", he said.


    God's World

    O WORLD, I cannot hold thee close enough!
    Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
    Thy mists, that roll and rise!
    Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
    And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
    To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
    World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

    Long have I known a glory in it all,
          But never knew I this;
          Here such a passion is
    As stretcheth me apart, -- Lord, I do fear
    Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
    My soul is all but out of me, -- let fall
    No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.


    Afternoon on a Hill

    I WILL be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
    I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

    I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,
    Watch the wind bow down the grass,
    And the grass rise.

    And when lights begin to show
    Up from the town,
    I will mark which must be mine,
    And then start down!


    Sorrow

    SORROW like a ceaseless rain
    Beats upon my heart.
    People twist and scream in pain, --
    Dawn will find them still again;
    This has neither wax nor wane,
    Neither stop nor start.

    People dress and go to town;
    I sit in my chair.
    All my thoughts are slow and brown:
    Standing up or sitting down
    Little matters, or what gown
    Or what shoes I wear.


    Tavern

    I'LL keep a little tavern
    Below the high hill's crest,
    Wherein all grey-eyed people
    May set them down and rest.

    There shall be plates a-plenty,
    And mugs to melt the chill
    Of all the grey-eyed people
    Who happen up the hill.

    There sound will sleep the traveller,
    And dream his journey's end,
    But I will rouse at midnight
    The falling fire to tend.

    Aye, 'tis a curious fancy --
    But all the good I know
    Was taught me out of two grey eyes
    A long time ago.


    Ashes of Life

    Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
    Eat I must, and sleep I will, -- and would that night were here!
    But ah! -- to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
    Would that it were day again! -- with twilight near!

    Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
    This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
    But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, --
    There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

    Love has gone and left me, -- and the neighbors knock and borrow,
    And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, --
    And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
    There's this little street and this little house.


    The Little Ghost

    I KNEW her for a little ghost
    That in my garden walked;
    The wall is high -- higher than most --
    And the green gate was locked.

    And yet I did not think of that
    Till after she was gone --
    I knew her by the broad white hat,
    All ruffled, she had on.

    By the dear ruffles round her feet,
    By her small hands that hung
    In their lace mitts, austere and sweet,
    Her gown's white folds among.

    I watched to see if she would stay,
    What she would do -- and oh!
    She looked as if she liked the way
    I let my garden grow!

    She bent above my favourite mint
    With conscious garden grace,
    She smiled and smiled -- there was no hint
    Of sadness in her face.

    She held her gown on either side
    To let her slippers show,
    And up the walk she went with pride,
    The way great ladies go.

    And where the wall is built in new
    And is of ivy bare
    She paused -- then opened and passed through
    A gate that once was there.


    Kin to Sorrow

    AM I kin to Sorrow,
    That so oft
    Falls the knocker of my door --
    Neither loud nor soft,
    But as long accustomed,
    Under Sorrow's hand?
    Marigolds around the step
    And rosemary stand,
    And then comes Sorrow --
    And what does Sorrow care
    For the rosemary
    Or the marigolds there?
    Am I kin to Sorrow?
    Are we kin?
    That so oft upon my door --
    Oh, come in!


    Three Songs of Shattering

              I

    THE first rose on my rose-tree
    Budded, bloomed, and shattered,
    During sad days when to me
            Nothing mattered.

    Grief of grief has drained me clean;
    Still it seems a pity
    No one saw, -- it must have been
            Very pretty.

              II

    Let the little birds sing;
    Let the little lambs play;
    Spring is here; and so 'tis spring; --
    But not in the old way!

    I recall a place
    Where a plum-tree grew;
    There you lifted up your face,
    And blossoms covered you.

    If the little birds sing,
    And the little lambs play,
    Spring is here; and so 'tis spring --
    But not in the old way!

              III

    All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree!
    Ere spring was going -- ah, spring is gone!
    And there comes no summer to the like of you and me, --
    Blossom time is early, but no fruit sets on.

    All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree,
    Browned at the edges, turned in a day;
    And I would with all my heart they trimmed a mound for me,
    And weeds were tall on all the paths that led that way!


    The Shroud

    DEATH, I say, my heart is bowed
    Unto thine, -- O mother!
    This red gown will make a shroud
    Good as any other!

    (I, that would not wait to wear
    My own bridal things,
    In a dress dark as my hair
    Made my answerings.

    I, to-night, that till he came
    Could not, could not wait,
    In a gown as bright as flame
    Held for them the gate.)

    Death, I say, my heart is bowed
    Unto thine, -- O mother!
    This red gown will make a shroud
    Good as any other!


    The Dream

    LOVE, if I weep it will not matter,
    And if you laugh I shall not care;
    Foolish am I to think about it,
    But it is good to feel you there.

    Love, in my sleep I dreamed of waking, --
    White and awful the moonlight reached
    Over the floor, and somewhere, somewhere,
    There was a shutter loose, -- it screeched!

    Swung in the wind, -- and no wind blowing! --
    I was afraid, and turned to you,
    Put out my hand to you for comfort, --
    And you were gone! Cold, cold as dew,

    Under my hand the moonlight lay!
    Love, if you laugh I shall not care,
    But if I weep it will not matter, --
    Ah, it is good to feel you there!


    Indifference

    I SAID, -- for Love was laggard, O, Love was slow to come, --
    "I'll hear his step and know his step when I am warm in bed;
    But I'll never leave my pillow, though there be some
    As would let him in -- and take him in with tears!" I said.
    I lay, -- for Love was laggard, O, he came not until dawn, --
    I lay and listened for his step and could not get to sleep;
    And he found me at my window with my big cloak on,
    All sorry with the tears some folks might weep!


    Witch-Wife

    SHE is neither pink nor pale,
    And she never will be all mine;
    She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
    And her mouth on a valentine.

    She has more hair than she needs;
    In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
    And her voice is a string of colored beads,
    Or steps leading into the sea.

    She loves me all that she can,
    And her ways to my ways resign;
    But she was not made for any man,
    And she never will be all mine.


    Blight

    HARD seeds of hate I planted
    That should by now be grown, --
    Rough stalks, and from thick stamens
    A poisonous pollen blown,
    And odors rank, unbreathable,
    From dark corollas thrown!

    At dawn from my damp garden
    I shook the chilly dew;
    The thin boughs locked behind me
    That sprang to let me through;
    The blossoms slept, -- I sought a place
    Where nothing lovely grew.

    And there, when day was breaking,
    I knelt and looked around:
    The light was near, the silence
    Was palpitant with sound;
    I drew my hate from out my breast
    And thrust it in the ground.

    Oh, ye so fiercely tended,
    Ye little seeds of hate!
    I bent above your growing
    Early and noon and late,
    Yet are ye drooped and pitiful, --
    I cannot rear ye straight!

    The sun seeks out my garden,
    No nook is left in shade,
    No mist nor mold nor mildew
    Endures on any blade,
    Sweet rain slants under every bough:
    Ye falter, and ye fade.


    When the Year Grows Old

    I CANNOT but remember
    When the year grows old --
    October -- November --
    How she disliked the cold!

    She used to watch the swallows
    Go down across the sky,
    And turn from the window
    With a little sharp sigh.

    And often when the brown leaves
    Were brittle on the ground,
    And the wind in the chimney
    Made a melancholy sound,

    She had a look about her
    That I wish I could forget --
    The look of a scared thing
    Sitting in a net!

    Oh, beautiful at nightfall
    The soft spitting snow!
    And beautiful the bare boughs
    Rubbing to and fro!

    But the roaring of the fire,
    And the warmth of fur,
    And the boiling of the kettle
    Were beautiful to her!

    I cannot but remember
    When the year grows old --
    October -- November --
    How she disliked the cold!


    Sonnets

              I

    THOU art not lovelier than lilacs, -- no,
    Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
    Than small white single poppies, -- I can bear
    Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
    From left to right, not knowing where to go,
    I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
    Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
    So has it been with mist, -- with moonlight so.

    Like him who day by day unto his draught
    Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
    Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
    Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
    Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
    I drink -- and live -- what has destroyed some men.

              II

    TIME does not bring relief; you all have lied
    Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
    I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
    I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
    The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
    And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
    But last year's bitter loving must remain
    Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!

    There are a hundred places where I fear
    To go, -- so with his memory they brim!
    And entering with relief some quiet place
    Where never fell his foot or shone his face
    I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
    And so stand stricken, so remembering him!

              III

    MINDFUL of you the sodden earth in spring,
    And all the flowers that in the springtime grow,
    And dusty roads, and thistles, and the slow
    Rising of the round moon, all throats that sing
    The summer through, and each departing wing,
    And all the nests that the bared branches show,
    And all winds that in any weather blow,
    And all the storms that the four seasons bring.

    You go no more on your exultant feet
    Up paths that only mist and morning knew,
    Or watch the wind, or listen to the beat
    Of a bird's wings too high in air to view, --
    But you were something more than young and sweet
    And fair, -- and the long year remembers you.

              IV

    NOT in this chamber only at my birth --
    When the long hours of that mysterious night
    Were over, and the morning was in sight --
    I cried, but in strange places, steppe and firth
    I have not seen, through alien grief and mirth;
    And never shall one room contain me quite
    Who in so many rooms first saw the light,
    Child of all mothers, native of the earth.

    So is no warmth for me at any fire
    To-day, when the world's fire has burned so low;
    I kneel, spending my breath in vain desire,
    At that cold hearth which one time roared so strong,
    And straighten back in weariness, and long
    To gather up my little gods and go.

              V

    IF I should learn, in some quite casual way,
    That you were gone, not to return again --
    Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
    Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
    How at the corner of this avenue
    And such a street (so are the papers filled)
    A hurrying man -- who happened to be you --
    At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
    I should not cry aloud -- I could not cry
    Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place --
    I should but watch the station lights rush by
    With a more careful interest on my face,
    Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
    Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

              VI -- Bluebeard

    THIS door you might not open, and you did;
    So enter now, and see for what slight thing
    You are betrayed. . . . Here is no treasure hid,
    No cauldron, no clear crystal mirroring
    The sought-for truth, no heads of women slain
    For greed like yours, no writhings of distress,
    But only what you see. . . . Look yet again --
    An empty room, cobwebbed and comfortless.
    Yet this alone out of my life I kept
    Unto myself, lest any know me quite;
    And you did so profane me when you crept
    Unto the threshold of this room to-night
    That I must never more behold your face.
    This now is yours. I seek another place.

Poets' Corner . H O M E . E-mail

©2001 Poets' Corner Editorial Staff, All Rights Reserved Worldwide


(WebCounter)
(TheCounter)