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Unread 12-10-2018, 02:51 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Default Edna St. Vincent Millay

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon --- his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape jape
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

Comment? At what point (if any) might one start to doubt her arguments? The start is brilliant; the last sentence is witty.

Line 8 has been corrected as needless.
Line 6 has been improved with an archaic word meaning to “joke” that is derived from a French verb originally meaning to “yap”.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 12-14-2018 at 12:58 PM.
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Unread 12-10-2018, 11:56 PM
David Rosenthal David Rosenthal is offline
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Once, when I was a young fella, I stumbled upon a volume of Millay's Collected Sonnets. It was one of the most important things I ever stumbled upon in my haphazard poetry education. A life-changer, really.

David R.
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Unread 12-11-2018, 05:31 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Wrt your comment and question, I begin to take issue in lines 11-12. I've always remembered these lines from Auden's "Friday's Child", which seem to me a neat description of our human predicament:

Though instruments at Its command
Make wish and counterwish come true,
It clearly cannot understand
What It can clearly do.


Nevertheless, I also like the last line and the sonnet, which is true in its way.

M
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Unread 12-11-2018, 10:35 AM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Though it might upset partisans of a type of modernity, one of Petrarch’s best sonnets (64) describes how Petrarch has caged his beloved Laura in effect inside his heart, whence she cannot easily escape, though of course she lives in married bliss with another man. It’s worth reading in the original, and in a good translation such as the one by Robert M. Durling. Millay’s is a Petrarchian sonnet.

So an easy reading has it as a response to that sonnet and about some individual in Millay’s life. If so, her “rape” of him while inside her “cage” goes beyond Petrarch’s image of a trapped flower who should get used to things and not mope.

Another reading is that it is an exercise in writing about poetry. Grotesque, and maybe not fully satisfactory.

Another reading has Millay screaming from her own insides. and rhetorically (only) caging her pain with plausible baloney.

I too think the weakest lines are 11 and 12, unless they are a scornful description of a nincompoop lover. Does that make sense?

Plausible Baloney is winning by a nose as the jockeys near the finish line, which is good. Freeze frame! There’s still a chance to place your bets, ladies and gentlemen.

Last edited by Allen Tice; 12-12-2018 at 11:49 AM. Reason: Durling
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Unread 12-11-2018, 11:57 AM
David Rosenthal David Rosenthal is offline
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I actually love lines 11-12. It point strikes me as very existential, almost Nietzschean, especially when it ends on "good" with a small "g," as the upshot almost as an afterthought. I think the "screaming from the insides" theory is closest, though I think it is less "plausible baloney" than resignation to insignificance -- the unbearable lightness of being, to coin a phrase.

David R.
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Unread 12-11-2018, 08:20 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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Plausible Baloney is ridden by female jockey whose jacket back says I am not a nincompoop, but that weasel is!
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Unread 12-11-2018, 09:11 PM
David Rosenthal David Rosenthal is offline
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It is worth noting that Millay did some unconventional things with sonnets that push against the idea of being too wedded to order. In addition to her "Sonnets in Tetrameter" (perhaps not too unconventional, after all), she wrote a couple of sonnets with only thirteen lines. Interestingly both are on the subject of grief.

Her sister, Norma Millay, wrote about them in her introduction to the Collected Sonnets, pointing out that the Petrarchan rhyme scheme makes it clear which line is missing in each. The octave goes abba aba, so Norma says L7 is missing. Though I suppose it could be L6. Anyway, Norma says that in her opinion, her sister, "had no time for the one line that might hamper the driving movement in each of these tragic poems. And I like to think that perhaps she might not have been aware of dropping a line, that the force behind the sonnets was too pressing, too immediate, for her to adhere to the normal grace of fourteen lines."

Norma goes on to say that whether or not her sister knew she was dropping a line, these sonnets at least show that the poet "made no blueprint for her poems in progress," and "did not spend her inspired and productive hours counting lines, but instead let the nature and power of the subject matter determine variations in form."

If Norma's suppositions are accurate, it puts the lie to the whole "ordering chaos" business, or at least reinforces the irony of its pose.

David R.
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Unread 12-11-2018, 09:59 PM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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From the back of the pack She’s A Freak’n Nut has suddenly surged and cut across on the inside close to the rail, pulling abreast of Plausible Baloney. Hooves are pounding. Freeze frame.
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Unread 12-12-2018, 05:36 AM
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Michael F Michael F is offline
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Allen and David,

Interesting reads on the poem. I don’t know the Petrarch sonnet, so that wasn’t my initial read. I read it as something of a cri de coeur or an existentialist poem, though with something of the performative of the poet mixed in.

My problem with lines 11-12 is ‘simple’, which to me can’t be other than a profession of faith, since IMO nothing in the empirical order proves things to be ‘simple’ -- I say this pace both Aquinas and Nietzsche. So the poem seems to me either ironic, or a desperate, voluntarist and not wholly convincing movement of faith. I read it more as the latter, but I admit I'm mostly unschooled in ESVM and her life.

Btw, writing this I thought of Robert Hass’s Praise, with that bewitching opening narrative:

We asked the captain what course
of action he proposed to take toward
a beast so large, terrifying, and
unpredictable. He hesitated to
answer, and then said judiciously:
“I think I shall praise it."


M

Last edited by Michael F; 12-12-2018 at 05:41 AM. Reason: order!
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Unread 12-12-2018, 11:34 AM
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Allen Tice Allen Tice is offline
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David, I apologize for not acknowledging your further background on Millay's writing just above. It is very good. Somehow at that moment the frequently dewy-eyed photos of Millay seemed too posed and I reacted hostilely. She was brilliant, and in her day perhaps they were her way of winning an audience. She could be attractive. Perhaps very manipulative. My first reading of this poem was that it was an exercise to fill paper in a period of writer's block, and not a bad one; good enough to publish, even if grotesque or not fully executed. Then I came to feel it was a story of fury and despair with the stresses of monogamy. But simple erotic frustrations, if present, could be too simple. People are more than monkeys, even men. There are men who can't stand being shoe-horned by surprise into things they really don't want, ever. One needn't be a rebel to say NO. Which might not align with anything else. "Swing and sway with strong-minded Millay"? Chaos! And she "will" "'make' 'him' 'good'"? Where is his hope?

In the last freeze frame, a horse called In Your Dreams and another called Petrarch are doing quite well also. The pack leaders are so bunched they could all collide.

More seriously, I think there's Petrarch in this sonnet.
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