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10 thoughts on “A Few Figs From Thistles

  1. says:

    Edna St Vincent Millay, originally from Maine, spent much of her creative life in and around New York City, with a period of her life also spent in Paris Her life and writings were concentrated in the first half of the 20th century, her primary literary output having been plays and poetry Her life and work were considered at the time to be creative, unconventional, brash, perceptive, and often flippant, all consistent with the literary scene in which she thrived Many of her poems seem today to be refreshing, irreverent, and incisive, perfectly compatible with social trends that have matured over the past century.This small volume of poetry was published in 1920 Most of the poems contained herein are short, often of just a few lines, and many are deep enough to reward multiple readings, each return suggesting depths and nuances at first missed or not considered This ambiguity is often part of their charm Perhaps a sense of her style and breadth can be suggested by quoting the first and last poems in the collection First FigMy candle burns at both ends It will not last the night But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends It gives a lovely light And the last of four final sonnets IVI shall forget you presently, my dear,So make the most of this, your little day,Your little month, your little half a year,Ere I forget, or die, or move away,And we are done forever by and byI shall forget you, as I said, but now,If you entreat me with your loveliest lieI will protest you with my favorite vow.I would indeed that love were longer lived,And oaths were not so brittle as they are,But so it is, and nature has contrivedTo struggle on without a break thus far, Whether or not we find what we are seekingIs idle, biologically speaking.


  2. says:

    FIRST FIGMY candle burns at both ends It will not last the night But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends It gives a lovely light SECOND FIGSAFE upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand Page 10 RECUERDOWE 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, Page 11 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 Page 12 THURSDAYAND if I loved you Wednesday, Well, what is that to you I do not love you Thursday So much is true.And why you come complaining Is than I can see.I loved you Wednesday, yes but what Is that to me Page 13 TO THE NOT IMPOSSIBLE HIMHOW shall I know, unless I go To Cairo and Cathay,Whether or not this blessed spot Is blest in every way Now it may be, the flower for me Is this beneath my nose How shall I tell, unless I smell The Carthaginian rose The fabric of my faithful love No power shall dim or ravelWhilst I stay here, but oh, my dear If I should ever travel Page 14 MACDOUGAL STREETAS I went walking up and down to take the evening air, Sweet to meet upon the street, why must I be so shy I saw him lay his hand upon her torn black hair Little dirty Latin child, let the lady by The women squatting on the stoops were slovenly and fat, Lay me out in organdie, lay me out in lawn And everywhere I stepped there was a baby or a cat Lord, God in Heaven, will it never be dawn The fruit carts and clam carts were ribald as a fair, Pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel She had haggled from the fruit man of his rotting ware I shall never get to sleep, the way I feel He walked like a king through the filth and the clutter, Sweet to meet upon the street, why did you glance me by Page 15 But he caught the quaint Italian quip she flung him from the gutter What can there be to cry about that I should lie and cry He laid his darling hand upon her little black head, I wish I were a ragged child with ear rings in my ears And he said she was a baggage to have said what she had said Truly I shall be ill unless I stop these tears Page 16 THE SINGING WOMAN FROM THE WOOD S EDGEWHAT should I be but a prophet and a liar, Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water, What should I be but the fiend s god daughter And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,That was got beneath a furze bush and born in a bog And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,As a pixie mother weaves for her baby,You will find such flame at the wave s weedy ebbAs flashes in the meshes of a mer mother s web, Page 17 But there comes to birth no common spawnFrom the love of a priest for a leprechaun,And you never have seen and you never will seeSuch things as the things that swaddled me After all s said and after all s done, What should I be but a harlot and a nun In through the bushes, on any foggy day,My Da would come a swishing of the drops away,With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,A mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.And there sit my Ma, her knees beneath her chin,A looking in his face and a drinking of it in,And a marking in the moss some funny little sayingThat would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying He taught me the holy talk of Vesper and of Matin,He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil Page 18 Oh, the things I haven t seen and the things I haven t known,What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,With a Which would you better and a Which would you rather With him for a sire and her for a dam,What should I be but just what I am Page 19 SHE IS OVERHEARD SINGINGOH, Prue she has a patient man, And Joan a gentle lover,And Agatha s Arth is a hug the hearth, But my true love s a rover Mig, her man s as good as cheese And honest as a briar,Sue tells her love what he s thinking of, But my dear lad s a liar Oh, Sue and Prue and Agatha Are thick with Mig and Joan They bite their threads and shake their heads And gnaw my name like a bone And Prue says, Mine s a patient man, As never snaps me up, Page 20 And Agatha, Arth is a hug the hearth, Could live content in a cup, Sue s man s mind is like good jell All one color, and clear And Mig s no call to think at all What s to come next year,While Joan makes boast of a gentle lad, That s troubled with that and this But they all would give the life they live For a look from the man I kiss Cold he slants his eyes about, And few enough s his choice, Though he d slip me clean for a nun, or a queen, Or a beggar with knots in her voice, And Agatha will turn awake While her good man sleeps sound,And Mig and Sue and Joan and Prue Will hear the clock strike round,For Prue she has a patient man, As asks not when or why, Page 21 And Mig and Sue have naught to do But peep who s passing by,Joan is paired with a putterer That bastes and tastes and salts,And Agatha s Arth is a hug the hearth, But my true love is false Page 22 THE PRISONERALL right,Go ahead What s in a name I guess I ll be locked intoAs much as I m locked out of Page 23 THE UNEXPLORERTHERE was a road ran past our house Too lovely to explore I asked my mother once she said That if you followed where it led It brought you to the milk man s door That s why I have not traveled Page 24 GROWN UPWAS it for this I uttered prayers And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs,That now, domestic as a plate, I should retire at half past eight Page 25 THE PENITENTI HAD a little Sorrow, Born of a little Sin,I found a room all damp with gloom And shut us all within And, Little Sorrow, weep, said I, And, Little Sin, pray God to die,And I upon the floor will lie And think how bad I ve been Alas for pious planning It mattered not a whit As far as gloom went in that room, The lamp might have been lit My little Sorrow would not weep,My little Sin would go to sleep To save my soul I could not keep My graceless mind on it So up I got in anger, And took a book I had, Page 26 And put a ribbon on my hair To please a passing lad.And, One thing there s no getting by I ve been a wicked girl, said I But if I can t be sorry, why, I might as well be glad Page 27 DAPHNEWHY do you follow me Any moment I can be Nothing but a laurel tree.Any moment of the chase I can leave you in my place A pink bough for your embrace.Yet if over hill and hollowStill it is your will to follow,I am off to heel, Apollo Page 28 PORTRAIT BY A NEIGHBORBEFORE she has her floor swept Or her dishes done,Any day you ll find her A sunning in the sun It s long after midnight Her key s in the lock,And you never see her chimney smoke Till past ten o clock She digs in her garden With a shovel and a spoon,She weeds her lazy lettuce By the light of the moon.She walks up the walk Like a woman in a dream, Page 29 She forgets she borrowed butter And pays you back cream Her lawn looks like a meadow, And if she mows the placeShe leaves the clover standing And the Queen Anne s lace Page 30 MIDNIGHT OILCUT if you will, with Sleep s dull knife, Each day to half its length, my friend, The years that Time takes off my life He ll take from off the other end Page 31 THE MERRY MAIDOH, I am grown so free from care Since my heart broke I set my throat against the air, I laugh at simple folk There s little kind and little fair Is worth its weight in smokeTo me, that s grown so free from care Since my heart broke Lass, if to sleep you would repair As peaceful as you woke,Best not besiege your lover there For just the words he spokeTo me, that s grown so free from care Since my heart broke Page 32 TO KATHLEENSTILL must the poet as of old, In barren attic bleak and cold, Starve, freeze, and fashion verses to Such things as flowers and song and you Still as of old his being give In Beauty s name, while she may live,Beauty that may not die as long As there are flowers and you and song Page 33 TO S M If he should lie a dyingI AM not willing you should go Into the earth, where Helen went She is awake by now, I know Where Cleopatra s anklets rust You will not lie with my consent And Sappho is a roving dust Cressid could love again Dido, Rotted in state, is restless still You leave me much against my will Page 34 THE PHILOSOPHERAND what are you that, missing you, I should be kept awakeAs many nights as there are days With weeping for your sake And what are you that, missing you, As many days as crawlI should be listening to the wind And looking at the wall I know a man that s a braver man And twenty men as kind,And what are you, that you should be The one man in my mind Yet women s ways are witless ways, As any sage will tell, And what am I, that I should love So wisely and so well Page 35 FOUR SONNETS Page 36 ILOVE, though for this you riddle me with darts, And drag me at your chariot till I die, Oh, heavy prince O, panderer of hearts Yet hear me tell how in their throats they lieWho shout you mighty thick about my hair,Day in, day out, your ominous arrows purr,Who still am free, unto no querulous careA fool, and in no temple worshiper I, that have bared me to your quiver s fire, Lifted my face into its puny rain,Do wreathe you Impotent to Evoke DesireAs you are Powerless to Elicit Pain Now will the god, for blasphemy so brave,Punish me, surely, with the shaft I crave Page 37 III THINK I should have loved you presently,And given in earnest words I flung in jest And lifted honest eyes for you to see,And caught your hand against my cheek and breast And all my pretty follies flung asideThat won you to me, and beneath your gaze,Naked of reticence and shorn of pride, Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.I, that had been to you, had you remained, But one waking from a recurrent dream,Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,And walk your memory s halls, austere, supreme,A ghost in marble of a girl you knewWho would have loved you in a day or two Page 38 IIIOH, THINK not I am faithful to a vow Faithless am I save to love s self alone.Were you not lovely I would leave you now After the feet of beauty fly my own Were you not still my hunger s rarest food,And water ever to my wildest thirst,I would desert you think not but I would And seek another as I sought you first But you are mobile as the veering air,And all your charms changeful than the tide,Wherefore to be inconstant is no care I have but to continue at your side.So wanton, light and false, my love, are you,I am most faithless when I most am true Page 39 IVI SHALL forget you presently, my dear,So make the most of this, your little day, Your little month, your little half a year,Ere I forget, or die, or move away,And we are done forever by and byI shall forget you, as I said, but now,If you entreat me with your loveliest lieI will protest you with my favorite vow I would indeed that love were longer lived,And vows were not so brittle as they are, But so it is, and nature has contrivedTo struggle on without a break thus far, Whether or not we find what we are seekingIs idle, biologically speaking.Source


  3. says:

    Cut if you will, with Sleep s dull knife,Each day to half its length, my friend, The years that Time takes off my life,He ll take from off the other end Midnight OilI stumbled upon this slim book of poetry in E book form and I m glad I did A short collection only 15 pages long, this is a nice way to familiarize yourself with Edna St Vincent Millay if you are not yet acquainted with her work I wasn t These poems are playful, lighthearted, intelligent, and at times mischievous Millay clearly shows her intent to live life to the fullest even in cases where convention might dictate otherwise for a woman of her time, or even now I m surprised she s not well known Upon completion I instantly craved and have since ordered her Collected Poems I hope others will be curious to read her as well Some personal favorites from this collection include Recuerdo, Portrait by a Neighbor, Sonnets 1 IV, Daphne, and The Singing Woman from the Wood s Edge.


  4. says:

    The Philosopher And what are you that, wanting youI should be kept awakeAs many nights as there are daysWith weeping for your sake And what are you that, missing you,As many days as crawlI should be listening to the windAnd looking at the wall I know a man that s a braver manAnd twenty men as kind,And what are you, that you should beThe one man in my mind Yet women s ways are witless ways,As any sage will tell, And what am I, that I should loveSo wisely and so well


  5. says:

    RECUERDOWe 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 the 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 the pears,And we gave her all our money but our subway fares. Found a hardback of this from 1922 at Black Dog Books in Zionsville, Indiana, when I was there visiting family It had no dust jacket, but otherwise was in good shape A sweet, slim volume Oh, and I got to meet the eponymous black dog, who was also very sweet an English lab named Sophie.


  6. says:

    4.5 Feminist poetry from the USA in 1920 was expecting a lot of verse about the vote, I think I read, at first puzzled as to how this was feminist because it seemed so normal but that was the very thing It s not ideological preaching this attitude of taken for granted independence was remarkable then Assertive female Classical subjects like her Daphne running from Apollo weren t a staple as they have become Carol Ann Duffy, U.A Fanthorpe And whilst loving both men and women, and elegant references to non monogamy are something I d be accustomed to read of now and the Bloomsbury group may have been living similar lives to Millay s it was bold to publish about it then She has no compunction at mentioning she cried about a male lover or in including trivial and funny verses too allowing herself freer thinking than many feminist writers of the later twentieth century.The over obvious rhymes sometimes found Renascence and Other Poems, are almost gone in this second collection.Here is laughter and heartbreak and archness all in one tiny collection If I started a list of favourites it may include nearly half the table of contents I very much want a Collected Works now but that will just have to wait as I am trying not to buy any books in June and maybe even longer unless there were some exceptionally good reason wanting one a lot whilst being up to reading many other things I have around me does not count Goodreads does implicitly encourage reading books rather than mooching about looking at pages of the already read, something I used to do much Minor flaw in this free Kindle edition the titles are not in bold or any sort of heading format.


  7. says:

    This collection was published earlier than The Harp Weaver and Other Poems, but the dates of creation are not noted However, most of them seem, at least to this reader, to represent an earlier stage in the development of her creative genius.


  8. says:

    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 Millay 3


  9. says:

    A lovely book of poems I managed to find a hardcover 1922 printing which is also wonderful One of my favorite verses from The Penitent So up I got in angerAnd took a book I had, And put a ribbon in my hair To please a passing lad And, one thing there s no getting by I ve been a wicked girl, said I But if I can t be sorry, why, I might as well be glad


  10. says:

    I choose A Second Fig as my favorite poem of the book Quoted here in its entirety Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand I ve always believed that if I had to choose between safety and a life of uncertainty I would choose the latter, knowing that even if I made mistakes I would have opportunities for growth.


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