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Thread: Edna St. Vincent Millay

  1. #1
    dreamer genoveva's Avatar
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    Feb 2006

    Question Edna St. Vincent Millay

    This thread is for the discussion of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

    Who was she? What did she write?
    I know that she has written poems and plays, and I know that she was a feminist, activist (and bisexual I might add).

    Two poems I know of hers include Conscientious Objector, and The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (which has been made into a lovely children's picture book with illustrations by Beth Peck).

    One play is titled Aria Da Capo.

    If people have read her stuff, what have you read & what do you think of it?
    Thanks for your comments.
    Last edited by genoveva; 06-10-2006 at 05:57 PM.
    "I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal." ~ Robert Desnos

  2. #2
    dreamer genoveva's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006

    "SON," said my mother,
    When I was knee-high,
    "You've need of clothes to cover you,
    And not a rag have I.

    "There's nothing in the house
    To make a boy breeches,
    Nor shears to cut a cloth with
    Nor thread to take stitches.

    "There's nothing in the house
    But a loaf-end of rye,
    And a harp with a woman's head
    Nobody will buy,"
    And she began to cry.

    That was in the early fall.
    When came the late fall,
    "Son," she said, "the sight of you
    Makes your mother's blood crawl,–

    "Little skinny shoulder-blades
    Sticking through your clothes!
    And where you'll get a jacket from
    God above knows.

    "It's lucky for me, lad,
    Your daddy's in the ground,
    And can't see the way I let
    His son go around!"
    And she made a queer sound.

    That was in the late fall.
    When the winter came,
    I'd not a pair of breeches
    Nor a shirt to my name.

    I couldn't go to school,
    Or out of doors to play.
    And all the other little boys
    Passed our way.

    "Son," said my mother,
    "Come, climb into my lap,
    And I'll chafe your little bones
    While you take a nap."

    And, oh, but we were silly
    For half an hour or more,
    Me with my long legs
    Dragging on the floor,

    To a mother-goose rhyme!
    Oh, but we were happy
    For half an hour's time!

    But there was I, a great boy,
    And what would folks say
    To hear my mother singing me
    To sleep all day,
    In such a daft way?

    Men say the winter
    Was bad that year;
    Fuel was scarce,
    And food was dear.

    A wind with a wolf's head
    Howled about our door,
    And we burned up the chairs
    And sat upon the floor.

    All that was left us
    Was a chair we couldn't break,
    And the harp with a woman's head
    Nobody would take,
    For song or pity's sake.

    The night before Christmas
    I cried with the cold,
    I cried myself to sleep
    Like a two-year-old.

    And in the deep night
    I felt my mother rise,
    And stare down upon me
    With love in her eyes.

    I saw my mother sitting
    On the one good chair,
    A light falling on her
    From I couldn't tell where,

    Looking nineteen,
    And not a day older,
    And the harp with a woman's head
    Leaned against her shoulder.

    Her thin fingers, moving
    In the thin, tall strings,
    Were weav-weav-weaving
    Wonderful things.

    Many bright threads,
    From where I couldn't see,
    Were running through the harp-strings

    And gold threads whistling
    Through my mother's hand.
    I saw the web grow,
    And the pattern expand.

    She wove a child's jacket,
    And when it was done
    She laid it on the floor
    And wove another one.

    She wove a red cloak
    So regal to see,
    "She's made it for a king's son,"
    I said, "and not for me."
    But I knew it was for me.

    She wove a pair of breeches
    Quicker than that!
    She wove a pair of boots
    And a little cocked hat.

    She wove a pair of mittens,
    She wove a little blouse,
    She wove all night
    In the still, cold house.

    She sang as she worked,
    And the harp-strings spoke;
    Her voice never faltered,
    And the thread never broke.
    And when I awoke,–

    There sat my mother
    With the harp against her shoulder
    Looking nineteen
    And not a day older,

    A smile about her lips,
    And a light about her head,
    And her hands in the harp-strings
    Frozen dead.

    And piled up beside her
    And toppling to the skies,
    Were the clothes of a king's son,
    Just my size.

    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay
    "I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal." ~ Robert Desnos

  3. #3
    dreamer genoveva's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    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 cinches 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

    ~Edna St. Vincent Millay
    "I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal." ~ Robert Desnos

  4. #4
    dreamer genoveva's Avatar
    Join Date
    Feb 2006
    An excerpt from
    Edna St. Vincent Millay's play titled Aria da Capo

    THYRSIS: How gently in the silence, Corydon,
    Our sheep go up the bank. They crop a grass
    That's yellow where the sun is out, and black
    Where the clouds drag their shadows. Have you noticed
    How steadily, yet with what a slanting eye
    They graze?

    CORYDON: As if they thought of other things.
    What say you, Thyrsis, do they only question
    Where next to pull?--Or do their far minds draw them
    Thus vaguely north of west and south of east?

    THYRSIS: One cannot say. . . . The black lamb wears its burdocks
    As if they were a garland,--have you noticed?
    Purple and white--and drinks the bitten grass
    As if it were a wine.

    CORYDON: I've noticed that.
    What say you, Thyrsis, shall we make a song
    About a lamb that thought himself a shepherd?

    THYRSIS: Why, yes!--that is, why,--no. (I have forgotten my line.)

    COTHURNUS: [Prompting.] "I know a game worth two of that!"

    THYRSIS: Oh, yes. . . . I know a game worth two of that!
    Let's gather rocks, and build a wall between us;
    And say that over there belongs to me,
    And over here to you!

    CORYDON: Why,--very well.
    And say you may not come upon my side
    Unless I say you may!

    THYRSIS: Nor you on mine!
    And if you should, 'twould be the worse for you!

    [They weave a wall of colored crepe paper ribbons from the
    centre front to the centre back of the stage, fastening the
    ends to COLUMBINE'S chair in front and to PIERROT'S chair in
    the back.]

    CORYDON: Now there's a wall a man may see across,
    But not attempt to scale.

    THYRSIS: An excellent wall.

    CORYDON: Come, let us separate, and sit alone
    A little while, and lay a plot whereby
    We may outdo each other.
    [They seat themselves on opposite sides of the wall.]

    PIERROT: [Off stage.] Ehe, Pierrette!

    COLUMBINE: [Off stage.] My name is Columbine!
    Leave me alone!

    THYRSIS: [Coming up to the wall.]
    Corydon, after all, and in spite of the fact
    I started it myself, I do not like this
    So very much. What is the sense of saying
    I do not want you on my side the wall?
    It is a silly game. I'd much prefer
    Making the little song you spoke of making,
    About the lamb, you know, that thought himself
    A shepherd!--what do you say?


    CORYDON: [At wall.] (I have forgotten the line.)

    COTHURNUS: [Prompting.] "How do I know this isn't a trick?"

    CORYDON: Oh, yes. . . . How do I know this isn't a trick
    To get upon my land?

    THYRSIS: Oh, Corydon,
    You _know_ it's not a trick. I do not like
    The game, that's all. Come over here, or let me
    Come over there.

    CORYDON: It is a clever trick
    To get upon my land. [Seats himself as before.]

    THYRSIS: Oh, very well! [Seats himself as before.]
    [To himself.] I think I never knew a sillier game.

    CORYDON: [Coming to wall.]
    Oh, Thyrsis, just a minute!--all the water
    Is on your side the wall, and the sheep are thirsty.
    I hadn't thought of that.

    THYRSIS: Oh, hadn't you?

    CORYDON: Why, what do you mean?

    THYRSIS: What do I mean?--I mean
    That I can play a game as well as you can.
    And if the pool is on my side, it's on
    My side, that's all.

    CORYDON: You mean you'd let the sheep
    Go thirsty?

    THYRSIS: Well, they're not my sheep. My sheep
    Have water enough.

    CORYDON: _Your_ sheep! You are mad, to call them
    Yours--mine--they are all one flock! Thyrsis, you can't mean
    To keep the water from them, just because
    They happened to be grazing over here
    Instead of over there, when we set the wall up?

    THYRSIS: Oh, can't I?--wait and see!--and if you try
    To lead them over here, you'll wish you hadn't!

    CORYDON: I wonder how it happens all the water
    Is on your side. . . . I'll say you had an eye out
    For lots of little things, my innocent friend,
    When I said, "Let us make a song," and you said,
    "I know a game worth two of that!"

    COLUMBINE: [Off stage.] Pierrot,
    D'you know, I think you must be getting old,
    Or fat, or something,--stupid, anyway!--
    Can't you put on some other kind of collar?

    THYRSIS: You know as well as I do, Corydon,
    I never thought anything of the kind.
    _Don't_ you?

    CORYDON: I _do_ not.

    THYRSIS: Don't you?

    CORYDON: Oh, I suppose so.
    Thyrsis, let's drop this,--what do you say?--it's only
    A game, you know . . . we seem to be forgetting
    It's only a game ... a pretty serious game
    It's getting to be, when one of us is willing
    To let the sheep go thirsty for the sake of it.

    THYRSIS: I know it, Corydon.

    [They reach out their arms to each other across the wall.]

    COTHURNUS: [Prompting.] "But how do I know--"

    THYRSIS: Oh, yes. . . . But how do I know this isn't a trick
    To water your sheep, and get the laugh on me?

    CORYDON: You can't know, that's the difficult thing about it,
    Of course,--you can't be sure. You have to take
    My word for it. And I know just how you feel.
    But one of us has to take a risk, or else,
    Why, don't you see?--the game goes on forever! . . .
    It's terrible, when you stop to think of it. . . .
    Oh, Thyrsis, now for the first time I feel
    This wall is actually a wall, a thing
    Come up between us, shutting you away
    From me. . . . I do not know you any more!

    THYRSIS: No, don't say that! Oh, Corydon, I'm willing
    To drop it all, if you will! Come on over
    And water your sheep! It is an ugly game.
    I hated it from the first. . . . How did it start?

    CORYDON: I do not know . . . I do not know . . . I think
    I am afraid of you!--you are a stranger!
    I never set eyes on you before! "Come over
    And water my sheep," indeed!--They'll be more thirsty
    Than they are now before I bring them over
    Into your land, and have you mixing them up
    With yours, and calling them yours, and trying to
    keep them!

    [Enter COLUMBINE]

    COLUMBINE: [To COTHURNUS.] Glummy, I want my hat.

    THYRSIS: Take it, and go.

    COLUMBINE: Take it and go, indeed. Is it my hat,
    Or isn't it? Is this my scene, or not?
    Take it and go! Really, you know, you two
    Are awfully funny!

    [Exit COLUMBINE]

    THYRSIS: Corydon, my friend,
    I'm going to leave you now, and whittle me
    A pipe, or sing a song, or go to sleep.
    When you have come to your senses, let me know.
    [Goes back to where he has been sitting, lies down and sleeps.]

    [CORYDON, in going back to where he has been sitting, stumbles
    over bowl of colored confetti and colored paper ribbons.]

    CORYDON: Why, what is this?--Red stones--and purple stones--
    And stones stuck full of gold!--The ground is full
    Of gold and colored stones! . . . I'm glad the wall
    Was up before I found them!--Otherwise,
    I should have had to share them. As it is,
    They all belong to me. . . . Unless--

    [He goes to wall and digs up and down the length of it,
    to see if there are jewels on the other side.]

    None here--
    None here--none here--They all belong to me!

    THYRSIS: [Awakening.] How curious! I thought the little black lamb
    Came up and licked my hair; I saw the wool
    About its neck as plain as anything!
    It must have been a dream. The little black lamb
    Is on the other side of the wall, I'm sure.

    [Goes to wall and looks over. CORYDON is seated on the ground,
    tossing the confetti up into the air and catching it.]

    Hello, what's that you've got there, Corydon?

    CORYDON: Jewels.

    THYRSIS: Jewels?--And where did you ever get them?

    CORYDON: Oh, over here.

    THYRSIS: You mean to say you found them,
    By digging around in the ground for them?

    CORYDON: [Unpleasantly.] No, Thyrsis,
    By digging down for water for my sheep.

    THYRSIS: Corydon, come to the wall a minute, will you?
    I want to talk to you.

    CORYDON: I haven't time.
    I'm making me a necklace of red stones.

    THYRSIS: I'll give you all the water that you want,
    For one of those red stones,--if it's a good one.

    CORYDON: Water?--what for?--what do I want of water?

    THYRSIS: Why, for your sheep!

    CORYDON: My sheep?--I'm not a shepherd!

    THYRSIS: Your sheep are dying of thirst.

    CORYDON: Man, haven't I told you
    I can't be bothered with a few untidy
    Brown sheep all full of burdocks?--I'm a merchant.
    That's what I am!--And if I set my mind to it
    I dare say I could be an emperor!
    [To himself.] Wouldn't I be a fool to spend my time
    Watching a flock of sheep go up a hill,
    When I have these to play with?--when I have these
    To think about?--I can't make up my mind
    Whether to buy a city, and have a thousand
    Beautiful girls to bathe me, and be happy
    Until I die, or build a bridge, and name it
    The Bridge of Corydon,--and be remembered
    After I'm dead.

    THYRSIS: Corydon, come to the wall,
    Won't you?--I want to tell you something.

    CORYDON: Hush!
    Be off! Be off! Go finish your nap, I tell you!

    THYRSIS: Corydon, listen: if you don't want your sheep,
    Give them to me.

    CORYDON: Be off! Go finish your nap.
    A red one--and a blue one--and a red one--
    And a purple one--give you my sheep, did you say?--
    Come, come! What do you take me for, a fool?
    I've a lot of thinking to do,--and while I'm thinking,
    The sheep might just as well be over here
    As over there. . . . A blue one--and a red one--

    THYRSIS: But they will die!

    CORYDON: And a green one--and a couple
    Of white ones, for a change.

    THYRSIS: Maybe I have
    Some jewels on my side.

    CORYDON: And another green one--
    Maybe, but I don't think so. You see, this rock
    Isn't so very wide. It stops before
    It gets to the wall. It seems to go quite deep,

    THYRSIS: [With hatred.] I see.

    COLUMBINE: [Off stage.] Look, Pierrot, there's the moon.

    PIERROT: [Off stage.] Nonsense!

    THYRSIS: I see.

    COLUMBINE: [Off stage.] Sing me an old song, Pierrot,--
    Something I can remember.

    PIERROT: [Off stage.] Columbine.
    Your mind is made of crumbs,--like an escallop
    Of oysters,--first a layer of crumbs, and then
    An oystery taste, and then a layer of crumbs.
    "I have so often dreamed of you that you become unreal." ~ Robert Desnos

  5. #5
    Registered User
    Join Date
    Aug 2004
    Unfortunately, I have never read any of her plays, but have read a great amount of her poetry (of which she wrote a lot). Indeed, too, many have considered her a great feminist and contributor to the feminist movement of her time (that of the late 1800's and early 1900's); her bisexuality, though thought of as rather deviant in her time, seemed well known, despite that she eventually married.
    If you want some general information of her, I recommend visiting here.
    Good luck!

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