Tuesday, July 29, 2014

I Know. But I Do Not Approve. And I Am Not Resigned.

This poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of the most moving elegies I know --- especially the final stanza. Millay, or Vincent, as her friends called her, was also a fiercely political poet. She wrote against the use of atom bombs and on behalf of Sacco and Vanzetti --- two anarchists who were convicted of a murder in Braintree, Massachusetts although they both had clear alibis for the day of the murder.

Millay wrote poems against the death penalty and against war. This did not make her popular. She published pamphlets and news articles. None of this helped her career; in fact it hastened the end of the love affair the public had had with her.

She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer prize in poetry and her book of Love Sonnets was the first book of poems I ever bought. The first residency I attended was her Sears barn in Austerlitz, New York. She remains one of my poetry foremothers --- although best pal to go partying with --- describes her more accurately.

Dirge Without Music

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.



  1. As a kid I loved and memorized First and Second Fig, but never looked much further. I recently bought a book of her poetry, though, and am really enjoying it.

  2. I have drawn her card from the poetry tarot 2 days in a row now.