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We were very tired, we were very merry...
(Dead Wood) Four poems for sun-kissed reading by Edna St Vincent Millay
Summer calls for simple pleasures. Easy clothing, easy music, easy food. I find it harder to read long books in June. A full book can be as unpalatable as a heavy meal when the night-time sun is still shining. Instead, I reach for novellas, essays, or poems.
In this edition of “Dead Wood”, gifted as always from the public domain, I am sharing four of my favorite poems by the gorgeous, radical poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. It’s impossible to choose all-time favorites, because seasons and moods will always make new selections. But these particular poems are my favorites today, and they are just-right-sized for my summer restlessness… TM
Recuerdo We were very tired, we were very merry— We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable— But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon. We were very tired, we were very merry— We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold. We were very tired, we were very merry, We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. We hailed, “Good morrow, mother!” to a shawl-covered head, And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; And she wept, “God bless you!” for the apples and pears, And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.
Assault I I had forgotten how the frogs must sound After a year of silence, else I think I should not so have ventured forth alone At dusk upon this unfrequented road. II I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk Between me and the crying of the frogs? Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass, That am a timid woman, on her way From one house to another!
Sonnet 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 neighbour 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.
Wild Swans I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over. And what did I see I had not seen before? Only a question less or a question more; Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying. Tiresome heart, forever living and dying, House without air, I leave you and lock your door. Wild swans, come over the town, come over The town again, trailing your legs and crying!
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