November 09, 2005

M: a doubleheader

Today, I'm doing two poets, because the coincidences amuse me.

is for Marvell and Millay.

When I posted some of Queen Elizabeth's works, someone commented on how adolescent some of it sounds. Some things never change; witness Andrew Marvell's most famous poem, To His Coy Mistress, which finishes:

But at my back I always hear Time's wingèd chariot hurrying near; And yonder all before us lie Deserts of vast eternity. Thy beauty shall no more be found, 25 Nor, in thy marble vault, shall sound My echoing song: then worms shall try That long preserved virginity, And your quaint honour turn to dust, And into ashes all my lust: 30 The grave 's a fine and private place, But none, I think, do there embrace. Now therefore, while the youthful hue Sits on thy skin like morning dew, And while thy willing soul transpires 35 At every pore with instant fires, Now let us sport us while we may, And now, like amorous birds of prey, Rather at once our time devour Than languish in his slow-chapt power. 40 Let us roll all our strength and all Our sweetness up into one ball, And tear our pleasures with rough strife Thorough the iron gates of life: Thus, though we cannot make our sun 45 Stand still, yet we will make him run.

Or in other words, "Someday we're going to die, so you need to sleep with me right now." I wonder how often that line's been used, in poetry, and at keggers.

Millay wrote the gamut of youth, the good and the bad. It's not the only thing she wrote about, of course, and I don't even think it's what she meant to write about in this poem. I think she meant to capture the small moments of beauty in life, and how much they can mean when not much else in beautiful. But maybe because I first met it in a teenage book, this poem, for me, has always captured that moment when you're walking with your friends at the mall on a Friday night, and The Boy walks by, and he looks at you, and you decide it means you are in True Love Forever:


My heart, being hungry, feeds on food
The fat of heart despise.
Beauty where beauty never stood,
And sweet where no sweet lies
I gather to my querulous need,
Having a growing heart to feed.

It may be when my heart is full,
Having attained its girth,
I shall not find so beautiful
The meagre shapes of earth,
Nor linger in the rain to mark
The smell of tansy in the dark.

On the other hand, I think I read "First Fig" as Millay meant it to be read. It conjures up the moments, maybe in college, where you stayed up too late every night because if you had missed those nights and the people and conversations in them, the rest of your life would have been poorer:

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends ­
It gives a lovely light!

Millay herself tried to describe exactly that sort of night:


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.

She also wrote about sex, both within and without love, about being alive, and about being a woman. I don't know what else Marvell wrote, but I think they would have liked each other. For a night, at least.

Posted by dichroic at November 9, 2005 04:34 PM
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