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Edna St. Vincent Millay

Posted 12-22-2010 at 10:56 AM by Steve Bucknell
I pick up Edna at Rare and Racy: Wine From These Grapes. Hamish Hamilton. 90 Great Russell Street, London.1934 Very plain jacket, but with soft rich pages beautifully cut and printed. Eight pounds! I hurry her home. She gives me this poem for my book of the winter:

How Naked, How Without a Wall

How naked, how without a wall
Against the wind and the sharp sleet,
He fares at night, that fares at all
Forth from the stove’s heat.

Or if the moon be in the sky,
Or if the stars, and the late moon
Not rising till an hour goes by,
And Libra setting soon,

How naked, how without a stitch
To shut him from the earnest air,
He goes, that by the whispering ditch
Alone at night will fare.

Nor is it but the rising chill
From the warm weeds that strikes him cold;
Nor that the stridulant hedge grows still,
Like what has breath to hold,

Until his tiny foot go past
At length, with its enormous sound;
Nor yet his helpless shadow cast
To any wolf around:

Bare to the moon and her cold rays
He takes the road, who by and by
Goes bare beneath the moony gaze
Of his own awful eye.

He sees his motive, like a fox
Hid in a badger’s hole; he sees
His honour, strangled, in a box,
Her neck lashed to her knees.

The man who ventures forth alone
When other men are snug within
Walks on his marrow, not his bone,
And lacks his outer skin.

The draughty caverns of his breath
Grow visible, his heart shines through:
Surely a thing which only death
Can have the right to do.

Edna St.Vincent Millay
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    Ed Shacklee's Avatar

    If I can presume to criticize Edna St. Vincent Millay, I think that stanzas 2-5 could've been profitably cut, but the rest, they are stunning. From 'He sees his motive like a fox' on, she's untouchable.

    Here's a poem by James Wright, for your winter book:

    Sparrows on a Hillside Drift

    Pitiful dupes of old illusion, lost
    And fallen in the white, they glitter still
    Sprightly as when they bathed in summer dust,
    Then fade among the crystals on the hill.

    Lonely for warm days when the season broke,
    Alert to wing and fire, they must have flown
    To rest among the toughened bows of oak
    That brood above us, now the fire is gone.

    Walking around to breathe, I kick aside
    The soft brown feather and the brittle beak.
    All flesh is fallen snow. The days deride
    The wings of these deluded, once they break.

    Somewhere the race of wittier birds survive,
    Southering slowly with the cooling days.
    They pause to quiver in the wind alive
    Like some secure felicity of phrase.

    But these few blunderers below my hands
    Assault the ear with silence on the wind.
    I lose their words, though winter understands.
    Man is the listener gone deaf and blind.

    The oak above us shivers in the bleak
    And lucid winter day; and, far below
    Our gathering of the cheated and the weak,
    A chimney whispers to a cloud of snow.
    Posted 12-25-2010 at 10:10 AM by Ed Shacklee Ed Shacklee is offline
  2. Unread
    Steve Bucknell's Avatar
    Thanks Ed,

    I've been casting around looking for the last page of this winterbook. I've had 'The Snowman" by Wallace Stevens in mind or 'Now winter nights enlarge' by Thomas Campion; but both are so familiar to me they failed to enthuse me. But this James Wright, unknown to me, is superb. I shall take it as the last words of this book and spend the January nights carefully sewing these pages together. I tend to agree with your assessment of Edna's poem, but I'm a fool for phrases like 'stridulant hedge' and 'whispering ditch', and couldn't do without them. 'Sparrows on a Hillside Drift' is wonderful; you send me off in search of more James Wright. I will carry this poem with me for a long time. Thanks.

    The Description of a Maske on S.Stephens night (1614)

    Come a shore, come, merrie mates,
    With your nimble heeles and pates:
    Summon ev’ry man his Knight,
    Enough honour’s is this night.
    Now let your Sea-borne Goddesse come,
    Quench these lights, and make all dombe.
    Some sleepe; others let her call:
    And so Godnight to all, godnight to all.

    Thomas Campion.
    Posted 12-25-2010 at 02:46 PM by Steve Bucknell Steve Bucknell is offline
    Updated 01-15-2011 at 05:07 PM by Steve Bucknell

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