Eratosphere Forums - Metrical Poetry, Free Verse, Fiction, Art, Critique, Discussions Able Muse - a review of poetry, prose and art

Forum Left Top

Thread Tools Display Modes
Old 04-02-2001, 09:00 PM
Julie Julie is offline
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 893

I thought I was familiar with most of Edna St. Vincent Millay, but as I was reading through her poems, looking for some lines to steal for Alicia's villanelle challenge, I found this sonnet. I don't remember ever reading it before, and I am thoroughly in love with it.


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.

I want to write like this.

I'm particularly taken with the rather daring repetition of "I should not cry aloud--I could not cry aloud." I would never have had the nerve to try that, I think.

Reply With Quote
Old 04-02-2001, 09:32 PM
wendy v wendy v is offline
Join Date: Sep 2000
Location: Western Colorado
Posts: 2,176

Julie, WOW, I just came across this poem a couple of weeks ago in, I think, a Norton. Hadn't seen it before, and fell mad for it, too. What a high, seeing it here. The lines you mention are what wrecked me, too, and that which followed,

I should not cry aloud -- I could not cry
Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place --

Such desperation, (just at the thought) -- squeezed into such a tight place, and such utterly painful control.

What great synchronicity.


Reply With Quote
Old 04-03-2001, 04:04 AM
Barbara Thimm Barbara Thimm is offline
New Member
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: London, England
Posts: 60

Thank you, Julie, that is gorgeous, I agree..... masterly rhyming: how she varies the syntax and rhymes words like "again" and "train", "avenue" and "you" ..... very contemporary...

I would not have thought that a sonnet could be made to incorporate such an undercurrent of despair ... and the repetition seems somehow akin to Bishop's "Write it!" in "One Art"..... (though grammatically very different).
Reply With Quote
Old 04-03-2001, 06:39 AM
Alan Sullivan Alan Sullivan is offline
Join Date: Aug 2000
Location: South Florida, US
Posts: 6,536

Wonderful use of the subjunctive, that delicate distinction between "should" and "could." Nuances like this are vanishing from the language as the Latin roots get more and more deeply buried.

Reply With Quote
Old 04-03-2001, 07:52 AM
ChrisW ChrisW is offline
Join Date: Mar 2001
Location: Boston, MA
Posts: 1,651

I ran across this in a book of her sonnets a year or so ago and was struck by it myself.
Let me add my admiration of the fact that it is all one conditional sentence where the turn of the sonnet is the shift from protasis to apodosis. And though it is all one sentence, it is exceptionally clear and vivid.
In reply to Allen, I might point out that even in contemporary speech we would make the distinction between 'could' and 'would' (which has taken over the functions of both 'should' and 'would').
Anyway, very glad to find that others admire this one -- Millay is often treated with such condescension, I felt a little embarrassed to admire this.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-03-2001, 12:08 PM
MacArthur MacArthur is offline
Join Date: Jan 2001
Location: Portland, Oregon, U.S.A.
Posts: 1,317

Yes, I'm impressed too.
Millay wrote a lot and is very uneven. I got a collection of hers from the library, but it was dictionary-thick and I returned it before I sampled much. A discriminating but thorough selection is called for, but couldn't find one at Powells (so you know it isn't commonly available-- world's best book-store)...just biographies.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-04-2001, 05:41 PM
David Anthony David Anthony is offline
Distinguished Guest Host
Join Date: Feb 2000
Location: Stoke Poges, Bucks, UK
Posts: 5,005

Yes, one of her best, and one of her earliest, from "Renascence", which has some of her loveliest sonnets.
This one's actually very Juliesque, come to think of it.
Does anybody know "To Jesus on His Birthday"? Not at all typical of Millay. Flawed, but fierce and brilliant.
Reply With Quote
Old 04-05-2001, 05:44 AM
Kate Benedict's Avatar
Kate Benedict Kate Benedict is offline
Join Date: Oct 2000
Location: New York, NY, USA
Posts: 2,192

I love the restraint in that phrase "careful interest" too. Explosive emotion, repressed, as it must be in public.

Good actors work with just this type of "subtext." I remember Meryl Streep saying that she and Dustin Hoffman thought their best scene in Kramer vs. Kramer was the one where they meet in a restaurant -- the subtext was rage, absolute fury, the war between these two characters, and it all had to be reined in, due to the setting.

Definitely a technique poets can draw on, when the subject is raw emotion. The temptation is to milk the emotion, cry out in absolute pain or whatever, when understatement may be the better artistic stance.

Reply With Quote
Old 04-05-2001, 06:20 PM
Esther Cameron Esther Cameron is offline
Join Date: Nov 2000
Location: Madison, WI
Posts: 240

I rejoiced to find this thread yesterday, having just read a couple of her poems for the "Mind's Eye Radio" program that is broadcast out of Madison. The theme for this month was "Influences." I've been influenced by a lot of writers, but perhaps Millay's influence has been the most sustaining.

Below are the two poems I read for the radio. The first sonnet, I feel, is closer to the quintessential Millay than the one Julie quoted, fine though it is. She basically is not a restrained, understated poet, which is why I for one like her -- she does not apologize.


Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky,
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by,
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to see,
Nor that a man's desire is hushed so soon
And you no longer look with love on me.

This have I always known: love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales.
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.



Let us abandon then our gardens and go home
And sit in the sitting-room.
Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under this cloud?
Sour to the fruitful seed
Is the cold earth under this cloud,
Fostering quack and weed, we have marched upon but cannot conquer;
We have bent the blades of our hoes against the stalks of them.

Let us go home, and sit in the sitting-room.
Not in our day
Shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,
Beneficent upon us
Out of the glittering bay,
And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea
Moving the blades of corn
With a peaceful sound.

Forlorn, forlorn
Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow,
And the petals drop to the ground,
Leaving the tree unfruited.
The sun that warmed our stooping backs and withered the weed uprooted
We shall not feel it again.
We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.

What from the splendid dead
We have inherited
Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued
See now the slug and the mildew plunder.
Evil does overwhelm
The larkspur and the corn;
We have seen them go under.

Let us sit here, sit still,
Here in the sitting-room until we die;
At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;
Leaving to our children's children this beautiful doorway,
And this elm,
And a blighted earth to till
With a broken hoe.

Reply With Quote
Old 04-05-2001, 08:06 PM
Julie Julie is offline
Join Date: May 2000
Location: Los Angeles
Posts: 893

I'm delighted that my taste isn't all in my mouth. Millay is often underappreciated, I think.

Wendy, you should be terrified if we're on the same wavelength!

David, that's the kindest thing anyone's said about my work for a long time. Thank you.

Esther, "Justice Denied" didn't grab me at first. I think I was resisting it, but by the end I was quite taken by it. Despite any unevenness, and I think MacArthur is right that she is uneven, I find Millay (whose work was unfamiliar to me until about two months ago) compelling. When she is on, she's very very on.

I think what struck me about the sonnet I posted was the intensity of grief being packaged in such a calm format. The speaker acts subdued, but the wonderful repetitions reveal more, like a leaking bandage. Whether the effect was intentional, or rather the result of Millay's own inability to subdue herself, doesn't matter to me.

The sonnet you quoted is undoubtedly more in her style, and I enjoy that style quite a bit. V excels not only in itself, but as a mirror of her normal exuberance (which, after a complaining post I made in the criticism forum, I have to praise!). This is one of those times where having some familiarity with the writer's work makes a single piece all the more compelling.

I would have been interested to hear how you handled the long/short line contrasts in "Justice Denied." Did you find your reading speeding up?

Reply With Quote


Thread Tools
Display Modes

Posting Rules
You may not post new threads
You may not post replies
You may not post attachments
You may not edit your posts

BB code is On
Smilies are On
[IMG] code is On
HTML code is Off
Forum Jump

Forum Right Top
Forum Left Bottom Forum Right Bottom
Right Left
Member Login
Forgot password?
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Statistics:
Forum Members: 7,915
Total Threads: 19,385
Total Posts: 250,282
There are 264 users
currently browsing forums.
Forum LeftForum Right

Forum Sponsor:
Donate & Support Able Muse / Eratosphere
Forum LeftForum Right
Right Right
Right Bottom Left Right Bottom Right

Hosted by ApplauZ Online