Poetry Friday: Superstition

It’s Friday the 13th, and in the triskaidekaphobic cultures in the Western world, it’s time for at least some of us to freak out a little based on some notion we have, I guess, that we may be on the brink of betrayal (a la Judas Iscariot) or that we are about to be inadvertently stabbed to death by a spear made of mistletoe (seriously, folks: Loki‘s bizarre murder of Balder is one reason your friends are making nervous comments on social media today).  And here at FP, what can we do but slavishly follow these cultural imperatives in an attempt to capture a wider audience for poetry?

The only problem here is that I’m really not familiar with too many poems even about the basic concept of “superstition”, let alone anything set inside the superstitious world of people who are afraid of Friday the 13th.  I nosed around a little today, and ended up at least finding a poem that talks about superstition a little—whether that’s enough to be thematically appropriate today, I leave to you to judge.  At least it’s a worthwhile poem—another sonnet spun from the mind of America’s best sonneteer (that should be a word, even though spell-check says it isn’t), and maybe this blog’s most frequent featured poet.  Here’s hoping it’s a nice addition to your Friday the 13th: from her 1921 publication Second April, this is the ninth in a series of untitled sonnets by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

“Let you not say of me when I am old, 
In pretty worship of my withered hands 
Forgetting who I am, and how the sands 
Of such a life as mine run red and gold 
Even to the ultimate sifting dust, ‘Behold, 
Here walketh passionless age!’—for there expands 
A curious superstition in these lands, 
And by its leave some weightless tales are told.

In me no lenten wicks watch out the night; 
I am the booth where Folly holds her fair;
Impious no less in ruin than in strength, 
When I lie crumbled to the earth at length, 
Let you not say, ‘Upon this reverend site 
The righteous groaned and beat their breasts in prayer.'”

Millay has hits and misses, but most of her sonnets (in my experience) are hits, and this is no exception.  It feels loosely based on Shakespeare, and of course how could Millay, so devoted to the sonnet, not be richly familiar with his work—enough so that maybe it would creep in to her verse, intentionally or un-?  Certainly the opening line here feels a lot like “When forty winters shall besiege thy brow“, although of course the two sonnets quickly chart very different courses.  Really Millay is interested in the deepest of our American superstitions, what some have called “the last taboo”—our fear of death, and all the euphemism and sentences trailing off and social conventions that fear gives rise to.  Honestly, for me the octet (the first eight lines) is the weaker half of the piece: I like the tone she’s striking, and of course Millay (as usual) gets a rhythm and sound that’s gorgeous spoken aloud, rhythmic and passionate and harmonious.  But there’s something about the images that struggles to land—she’s clearly irritated with how we try to talk around old age, how we idealize the aged to the point that we refuse to acknowledge how a body withers, that we pretend anger and zeal and lust and all the other passions, both “red” and “gold”, fade away from an elderly person, so much so that the King James Version peeks its head in here with “walketh”.  But fitting these pieces together is more work than it should be.  I can work out that the weightlessness of these tales is her really saying that the words we say about the aged are often so carefully parsed that they become insubstantial, I think, but the ideas don’t interlock as smoothly as the sounds of the words and phrases do.

The sestet (the final six lines) is where she brings it roaring out, I think—tackling the real fear she has about what they’ll say of her once she’s gone.  It’s not the innocent white lies about her aging beauty that really bites at her, not the pretense that she’ll lose the fire inside.  It’s the anxiety she feels that in her wake she’ll leave people muttering pious nonsense about her.  In her, as she tells us, “no lenten wicks watch out the night”—she’s not a lighter of candles at saints’ statues, she is not a reverent or a devout person when it comes to these rituals of faith, and she utterly rejects the notion that even at the end, when she lies “in ruin”, anything like that will be discovered in her.  So she admonishes us not to make any false claims on her behalf, and to keep clear the mourners who will.

Superstition operates on several levels here, since on the one hand I think we’re meant to understand that she sees religion as nothing much more than that, but on the other hand she really is surveying a broader landscape of superstition that surrounds everything we say about the dying and the dead.  Our culture is so in love with vitality and youth that it’s easy to understand how uneasy we feel when confronting our mortality, but as Millay points out, we do seem to act like we can simply hold it at bay forever with our words, and that’s ultimately really paralyzing (and even infantilizing) to us as a society.  If we never say she looks old, will that preserve her?  If we reinvent life stories about the deceased that make them sound more peaceful, more socially acceptable, will that remake them?

I won’t always strive for topicality here, but until I get the Pulitzers back on track, my more usual approach of sticking to poetry from my Pulitzer year will have to be on hold too, so look for thematic poetry in the short term ahead—summer poems, Independence Day poems, poems about fatherhood and watching a baby grow into a child.  I’ll try to mix up who shows up at the table, but keep to folks who are pretty approachable and easy to grab on to in their writing style, if I can.  I hope Edna was a welcome return visitor today, and we’ll see what I can spin up for next weekend: in the meantime, I hope you have a great Friday, and that the week ahead holds some good reading and time to indulge in it.

Poetry Friday: 1939 (part 4)

Perhaps the most reliable presence here at Poetry Friday (due to the era in which she writes, her prolific output, and my admiration for her best stuff) is Edna St. Vincent Millay, and 1939 won’t be an exception to that trend.  My attention returns again to the poetry of the war, and in perusing a collection Millay published in 1939, I found a poem I feel merits some pondering.  So, without further ado, from Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Huntsman, What Quarry?, this is the second sonnet in the series “From a Town in a State of Siege”:

“Well, we have lived so far; we are alive;
War is a way of living. If today
We die, we have to do that anyway
Sometime. It’s not so bad, once you contrive
To make a home of it; we do not thrive,
Yet here we are, at least,—no place to stay,
A place to stop in, though—and we can say
Hello to friends; and I have learned to drive.

The worst is being hated, and to hate;
Perhaps if it were hurricane or flood
That dragged us from our beds, we might await
The shock, the twisted wreckage and the mud
With lighter hearts, that being not man, but fate…
And only friendly dogs to lap our blood.”

There’s a casual tone to the poem that I liked immediately—Millay at her worst is over-wrought and uses 16th century exclamations (like “O thou wretch!” etc.) to excess, and so the opening lines caught my eye right away as an example of the plain-spoken style she finds when she’s at her best, generally.  Millay is also usually at her best when considering the two great obsessions of her life—love and death—and a blunt look at war seems to me to suit them nicely.  Millay’s pacifism has already been explored briefly here at Following Pulitzer, but I wondered how it would sound when dealing with the specific world of 1939, and not the abstraction of war as defined by a dictionary.

The ambiguity in her phrases is one of the things I love about her—the number of senses I can make of the line “War is a way of living” is a good example.  Whether Millay is talking about the city’s acceptance of war as the new reality, or about how the nations seem to have accepted war as the way to survive, or about how human beings can adopt a warlike attitude as a way of getting through their day…any and all of these add something to the poem for me.  I am intrigued by what it means to “make a home of it”, “it” seeming to mean “death”—is this about accepting the imminence of death?  Something like a stage in the grieving process for the person about to die?  Or am I missing something there?  I wonder.  The temporary nature of this city—a place not to stay but to “stop in”—reminds me of images of Purgatory, or the banks of the river Styx.  It ties in with some of the images I remember from Eliot’s poetry after World War I.  There’s something ominous that is only barely hidden under the simple and almost banal words and phrases that Millay uses to describe their world.

Maybe the best example of this is the line about Millay learning to drive: when I first read it, I rolled my eyes and said “Oh, Edna, you’ll do anything for a rhyme, won’t you?”  And certainly a lot of her lesser work suffers from sing-song sound patterns, and an over-reliance on bad rhymes.  Here, in the context of the war and death, “I have learned to drive” seems almost comically bad, like a sudden transition from a family’s Christmas newsletter: “Bill had his right leg amputated after the accident.  The twins are learning Tae Kwon Do.”  But then it came to me: many women learned to drive at the start of World War II because of the anticipated need for ambulance drivers, and the need to free up young, able-bodied men for the front.  “I have learned to drive” isn’t a humdrum, suburban rite of passage—it is Millay’s obligation as the citizen of a town under siege; it is her entry into a world of bone and blood.  Her sitting behind that wheel is taking up her part in a cycle of violence—the man whose place she takes goes to the front, and soon he or one of his companions will ride, dying, behind her as she drives.  In this compact phrase, “drive” is suddenly doing un-innocent work—it positions itself in contrast to its rhymes, “alive” and “thrive”, that precede it, taking the place of the word “death” that this poem will not speak aloud.  That line won me over fast.

She executes the turn from the ominous reality of the city in the octave to the more personal concern with hatred in the sestet—Millay is so good at the structure of the sonnet, maybe America’s best—we start to see that the poem is not really about the city, not entirely at least.  It’s interesting to think that the real problem with war is “hatred”—the poem thus far might suggest that “dying” is war’s greatest fault.  But as Millay argues, the really pernicious and evil thing about war is not death—a hurricane can kill as many (or more), and yet war is more terrible than that.  I know not everyone would agree with her—Thomas Hardy, for one, never found Fate’s hands any comfort—but I see something compelling about her argument that death in the face of the impersonal induces less fear or panic than the knowledge that your end is coming at another person’s hands.  The idea that we will now hurt each other, and not help, shakes the foundations of human society.  There is something terrifying about the idea that any people can overcome the taboos and laws against killing that civilization has erected against the chaos and the void.  War may be necessary (though Millay would not say so), but it is always about us at our worst.  We have eulogized this “good war”, World War II, to the point that I think we believe it escaped being tarred by that brush.  But I’ve heard the fear and the anguish in the voices of veterans who came back—I’ve seen my grandfather’s tears.  And I know what stories he always stopped short of telling.  If Millay does nothing else for me today, she reminds me what war feels and looks like, without giving me the image of a single bullet or soldier’s grave, and she makes me confront what war really is.


Poetry Friday: 1937 speaks for itself (via Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Having posted Sharon Olds’s commentary on 1937 last week, I figured 1937 should get a retort, and who better to speak for that time and place than Millay, a woman who at her best is one of America’s keenest-eyed poets (though who at her worst, admittedly, is trite and clumsy).  1937 isn’t necessarily her best year, but it did yield some good stuff to think on: a poem slightly longer than I usually post, but one worth the time and attention, I think.  Here is Edna St. Vincent Millay‘s “Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies”:

Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.

Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.

And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it’s much too small, because she won’t curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God! Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
—mothers and fathers don’t die.

And if you have said, “For heaven’s sake, must you always be kissing a person?”
Or, “I do wish to gracious you’d stop tapping on the window with your thimble!”
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you’re busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, “I’m sorry, mother.”

To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.

Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
back into their chairs.

Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.

Millay’s power usually comes from skill with sound and meter—the rhythm of “sink and rise” in “Love is not all” or the cheerful, almost sing-song sound patterns of her poem about running back and forth all night on the Staten Island ferry in “Recuerdo“.  What I am struck by with this poem is how its greatest impact comes from the ideas, and the plainness with which they are spoken.  The premise itself startles and grabs me, the idea that “childhood” is not a set sequence of years, or a physiological/emotional developmental stage, but rather that space in which we mortal creatures remain remote from our mortality.  The phrase, though, captures that other aspect of childhood—the fantastical, the way in which being a child opens our imaginations so that it really is like living in a private kingdom, a world where we can make-believe almost anything.

Millay is patient with the idea.  Having spoken it, she sets out to test its boundaries, almost as if it’s a hypothesis whose truth she is uncertain of.  She dispenses with the deaths that happen to forgotten relatives easily enough.  I wonder if she’s as right about lost pets, since certainly a cat or two who died in my childhood were much lamented, but she’s undeniably right that the sting of that mourning was really nothing to what has come since.  I marvel at her sharp observational skills—the phrase “she won’t curl up now” is incredibly immediate to me, flashing me back to cat burials in the backyard and the terror of rigor mortis and the sense that, whatever I was burying, it was not the creature I had known.  Those little turns of phrase are much more direct here than what I’m used to from Millay, and I like them even when they make me sad.

I’ll admit, I’m a bit baffled by the stanza about the thimble and the apology to her mother (is this Millay saying we are old enough now to realize we’re becoming our parents?  Or something else?): there’s something about the structure that leaves me feeling I’m only getting half of a conversation.  I suspect I may be seeing references only Millay and her mother would really have understood.  But the stanza that follows knocks me flat because it is so real and so absurd: death as the great removal of all our self, not just our noble moments but the quiet ones where we sit and chat or drink our tea.  To be grown up really is that kind of mourning—not the simple grief wailed over a cat dying too young, but the slow terms we grapple with as we face loss in the morning light, the quiet ways we are reminded of how our lives will not be quite the same.  Millay builds the tension here—she darts all over her house, she becomes upset; the dead are not moved.  They are beyond our ability to alter them.  What connects this with childhood, I wonder, and with growing up?  There’s a thread here I feel certain I’m not picking up—I get what’s happening in one sense, but I feel like Millay’s reflections on childhood and adult life must be present here still, and I don’t follow the distinction she’s making.

I love that last stanza, though.  After the building emotion, it would have been easy to end on something big and sweeping.  But instead, she handles the humdrum details of the poem neatly—the tea cannot sit undrunk forever.  The house cannot remain a shrine, and the child grown up cannot kneel in grief always.  There is a life to be entered—one in which the tea is cold because we have waited too long to really get started.

In the end, I wonder if I’m clinging to the “childhood” references too much.  Maybe the poem is more about being an adult than in the transition to adulthood, and the child is just a way of entering the space where she can talk about it.  It seems to me like a self-addressed poem, in which Millay needs to move herself on in some real way.  But it touches on emotions I think any adult who’s lost someone they care about can understand.  Like I said above, I feel like there are things I’m not getting: I figure either you agree and may have some idea of what, or you disagree, and think this poem may not be as good as I think it is.  Either way, it would be nice to hear your thoughts below.

Poetry Friday: 1931

At last we move forward—Years of Grace takes us to 1931, and for the first time in many months, I glance at poetry from a specific year, as part of my curiosity about the parallels (or lack thereof) in art from a given point in time.  We are in luck with 1931: among the worthy publications of note is a collection of sonnets written by one of my favorite poets, Edna St. Vincent Millay.  The collection, entitled Fatal Interview, chronicles the rise and fall of a love affair, expressing Millay’s greatest hopes, worst fears, and most lingering of regrets.  One of the sonnets in particular, Sonnet XXX, is moderately well-known: I taught it on more than one occasion, and have heard a recording of Millay declaiming it in a very stirring voice.  Below, find the sonnet, and beyond it my reflections:

Love is not all; it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain,
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,
I might be driven to sell your love for peace,
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.

I think this sonnet holds in tension two ideas that are hardly original to Millay here—the first, that love is a trivial emotion that is hardly worth all the attention and praise lavished on it, and the second, that love is somehow more enduring (after all) than anything else on Earth.  I’m sure of the first (the sonnet is, after all, pretty direct about it), but the second’s a matter for dispute, I think.  I’ll try to say why I see it in the poem later on.

What “sells” this sonnet for me, and has me convinced it’s one of the better sonnets ever written by an American (the Italians and the English invented the form, and are generally best at it, I think), is Millay’s skill with words.  Look at the power of the first four lines: Millay goes right after love, and the punch of the lines is in their simplicity—36 words, of which 32 are one syllable.  The strength of a line like “Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink”, is in how swiftly it gets past your defenses with good sturdy Anglo-Saxon words that don’t have the beauty of some longer Latin-based compounds, but make up for it in being direct.  Even more powerful, I think, is the rhythmic bobbing of “sink and rise and sink and rise and sink again”, where you feel the drowning man’s struggle as the voice rises and falls with the words (it is no accident, I think, that “rise” sounds uplifting, and “sink” plummets in tone).  I’m overanalyzing this, but it’s because I really love how Millay constructs the poem out of the simplest possible language.

This is not always her approach: I’ve read plenty of what are, frankly, mediocre sonnets by Millay in which she loads down the poem with classical allusions and darling little flowery phrases.  This kind of simplicity is what she does when she’s at her best, and comes (I suspect) from really serious feeling.  At the end of this sonnet, she looks her lover squarely in the eye and says that she might easily trade all memory of their love, if she could, for something real and reliable like food or safety.  And certainly the sonnet leading up to that moment makes that sentiment plausible.  But it deflates suddenly with the understated line “I do not think I would.”  The tide of emotion she’s restraining there feels enormous to me.  Maybe I read too much into the poem, but I think Millay is screaming inside by that point—she wants to tell him that despite the utter helplessness she feels in trying to love him, despite her knowledge that it can all evaporate tomorrow and that she can be left behind, completely forgotten, there is nothing in the world that could tear her away from him.  I recognize the poem can be read differently—that Millay is genuinely uncertain.  That she loves him but she does not know if it is a love that could withstand the kind of stress that really exists in the world.  I don’t think so: I think the fact that she expresses the sentiment so late in the poem, and with such reserve, is her way of undercutting the sonnet—executing “the turn” that poets put at the end of many sonnets, like Shakespeare admitting that despite his mistress’s eyes being nothing like the sun, he finds her more rare and lovely than anyone he’s ever known.  But what do you think—am I reading this right?

Poetry Friday: Pacifism

It’s been another long week—I hope that, once the quarter ends, my ability to focus on the blog will ratchet back up—but I can’t let Friday pass without a poem.  I can’t say why I thought of this poem this week…some phrase I read somewhere reminded me of something, and then I obsessed about it until I realized I was remembering part of a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  It won’t be everyone’s cup of tea, even though I love it.  I’ll say a little about both sides of that after you’ve had a chance to read it. It’s titled “Conscientious Objector”:

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.

I love Millay’s refrain—the idea that fighting in a war is a kind of alliance with Death, a willingness to serve Death’s purposes is compelling. I want to say (since I know some of you will think it) that Millay oversimplifies an issue here, but I think she does so in order to explore it. Pacifism has a noble tradition in this country (and around the world), and I’m not convinced people should dismiss it as “unrealistic” as often as they do. Of course you’ll raise Hitler as your counter-example. I don’t know what Millay or I would say to that (I don’t know when this poem is written, but suspect it predates WWII). But if men like Gandhi and Dr. King believed that only non-violent action could bring change to the world….well, I think pacifism has some wise folks on its side, and I’d like to let myself think about it. And surely the simplest argument for it is that refrain—that I am content to die, myself, but that I will do no more than that for Death.

And Millay makes Death so fully personified that it gets to me quickly. The image of cinching a saddle on Death’s skeletal horse, because he has business in some dark corner of the world, is chilling. I don’t want to be complicit in that violence even if I will not see it. The second stanza’s rejection of cooperation even under duress grabs me too: the image of the horse about to crush the breath out of me, like some echo of Giles Corey, and yet refusing to give up a single life to Death beyond my own. But really it’s the third stanza that soars—the refusal to give Death the map even to my enemy’s door is nothing if not reminiscent of the Sermon on the Mount. Say what you will about “just war theory” (and I’ve read a bit about it), it’s hard for me to really reconcile being a soldier with the Gospel of Matthew. I’m not saying I doubt the sincerity of the faith and ethical quality of those who serve, since I truly don’t—this is an incredibly difficult question, and I’m not interested in judging anyone else’s moral judgments. I just can’t personally put much distance between what Millay is saying, and “if a man strikes you on one cheek, turn to him the other also”. There’s a reason that, as much as I admire the bravery and self-sacrificial dedication of those who fight, I am not sure I could join them, even in a “righteous cause”.

Maybe it all comes down for me to Millay’s question. Am I a spy in the land of the living, that I should deliver men to Death? Why am I here, after all, and what does it mean to share life–the state of being present here as I am–with every other human on the globe? Millay suggests that, among other things, it means not betraying that brotherhood under any circumstance. And again, I find this really powerful and compelling.

I’m being intentionally a little controversial here—sorry if it riles you up. I knew when I saw this poem this week that I’d talk about it today, and that plenty of people wouldn’t like what I had to say. But I decided I shouldn’t hide my honest reactions. This poem makes me think in certain ways. I went off and read a little about Gandhi’s last interview (well worth looking for, if you can find it!). I thought about the hard cases—about what I would do in a Nazi Germany scenario. Poems should make us think this way. They should ask us to challenge our assumptions and our beliefs, to test who we are and find whatever it is that we find. If the Gettysburg Address can inspire us by making our hearts soar with gratitude to the men who died there that others might be free (and it does inspire me, and that’s part of what I have to grapple with), then I think we need to let poems like this work on us also. There are great truths and trivial truths, as Niels Bohr once said….and I think the truth about war and peace, about bravery in battle and bravery in conscientious objection, is a great truth. One day I hope to arrive at it. Have a peaceful weekend.

Poetry Friday: 1928

I’m still dealing with this lingering cold (given how long this is taking, some might call it “malingering”, but I’m not faking, I swear!)—at this point, I can’t speak above a whisper.  Anyway, I hope to get some posting done on Wilder’s novel this week (as it’s break), but now it’s time for a poem.  I picked up Edna St. Vincent Millay’s The Buck in the Snow, published in 1928, and as I read more and more of her, I realize that she’s a poet who, when she “hits”, knocks it out of the park.  But when she misses….man, are we left with some uninteresting sing-song end rhyme.  This particular collection is, to my taste, mostly misses, but the following is a poem I thought had at least something going for it.  I’m curious how it goes over with all of you—without further ado, “Hangman’s Oak”:

Before the cock in the barnyard spoke,
Before it well was day,
Horror like a serpent from about the Hangman’s Oak
Uncoiled and slid away.

Pity and Peace were on the limb
That bore such bitter fruit.
Deep he lies, and the desperate blood of him
Befriends the innocent root.

Brother, I said to the air beneath the bough
Whence he had swung,
It will not be long for any of us now;
We do not grow young.

It will not be long for the knotter of ropes, not long
For the sheriff or for me,
Or for any of them that came five hundred strong
To see you swing from a tree.

Side by side together in the belly of Death
We sit without hope,
You, and I, and the mother that gave you breath,
And the tree, and the rope.

Poetry Friday: 1923 (part 2)

I’m glad to have at least one more Poetry Friday in 1923, since this is also the year of the publication of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems.  If you haven’t read Millay’s sonnets on love, and you have any appreciation for poetry, do yourself a favor: go find them and read as many as you can.  She has the power to laugh at the comedy of life, and then turn on a dime and break your heart.  She always does mine.  Here is Sonnet VI:

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 sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
This have I known always: 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.