Tuesday, February 22, 2005

Edna St. Vincent Millay

I've been angsting for most of the day over what poem I should post in honor of Edna St. Vincent Millay's birthday. A fig or two; "Recuerdo," which is probably my favorite; a sonnet; a political poem I'm particularly fond of? I should mention that Johnny Cash (his birthday's this week, too) was cool enough to cover her "Ballad of the Harp-Weaver" years ago and the Bookshelves of Doom has posted "Spring"today--go read Vincent put beauty in its place. Plan on reading Nancy Milford's wonderful bio Savage Beauty if you haven't already.

I'm posting the following poem because it's one I didn't read until just a couple of years ago and it's just unsettling enough for me to really, really like it.

Intense and terrible, I think, must be the loneliness
Of infants--look at all
The Teddy-bears clasped in slumber in slatted cribs
Painted pale-blue or pink.
And all the Easter Bunnies, dirty and disreputable, that deface
The white pillow and the sterile, immaculate, sunny, turning pleasantly in space,
Dainty abode of Baby--try to replace them
With new ones, come Easter again, fluffy and white, and with a different smell;
Release with gentle force from the horrified embrace,
That hugs until the stitches give and the stuffing shows,
His only link with a life of his own, the only thing he really knows. . .
Try to sneak it out of sight.
If you wish to hear anger yell glorious
From air-filled lungs through a throat unthrottled
By what the neighbours will say;
If you wish to witness a human countenance contorted
And convulsed and crumpled by helpless grief and despair,
Then stand beside the slatted crib and say There, there, and take the toy away.

Pink and pale-blue look well
In a nursery. And for the most part Baby is really good:
He gurgles, he whimpers, he tries to get his toe to his mouth; he slobbers his food
Dreamily--cereal and vegetable juices--onto his bib:
He behaves as he should.

But do not for a moment believe he has forgotten Blackness: nor the deep
Easy swell; nor his thwarted
Design to remain for ever there;
Nor the crimson betrayal of his birth into a yellow glare.
The pictures painted on the inner eyelids of infants just before they sleep,
Are not pastel.

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