Sonnets (from Second April)


Sonnets was published in Millay's collection, Second April (1921).
Sonnets (from Second April)
John Duncan, Tristan & Isolde, date unknown
SONNETS (from Second April)


     We talk of taxes, and I call you friend;
     Well, such you are,—but well enough we know
     How thick about us root, how rankly grow
     Those subtle weeds no man has need to tend,
     That flourish through neglect, and soon must send
     Perfume too sweet upon us and overthrow
     Our steady senses; how such matters go
     We are aware, and how such matters end.
     Yet shall be told no meagre passion here;
     With lovers such as we forevermore
     Isolde drinks the draught, and Guinevere
     Receives the Table's ruin through her door,
     Francesca, with the loud surf at her ear,
     Lets fall the colored book upon the floor.

     Into the golden vessel of great song
     Let us pour all our passion; breast to breast
     Let other lovers lie, in love and rest;
     Not we,—articulate, so, but with the tongue
     Of all the world: the churning blood, the long
     Shuddering quiet, the desperate hot palms pressed
     Sharply together upon the escaping guest,
     The common soul, unguarded, and grown strong.
     Longing alone is singer to the lute;
     Let still on nettles in the open sigh
     The minstrel, that in slumber is as mute
     As any man, and love be far and high,
     That else forsakes the topmost branch, a fruit
     Found on the ground by every passer-by.

     Not with libations, but with shouts and laughter
     We drenched the altars of Love's sacred grove,
     Shaking to earth green fruits, impatient after
     The launching of the colored moths of Love.
     Love's proper myrtle and his mother's zone
     We bound about our irreligious brows,
     And fettered him with garlands of our own,
     And spread a banquet in his frugal house.
     Not yet the god has spoken; but I fear
     Though we should break our bodies in his flame,
     And pour our blood upon his altar, here
     Henceforward is a grove without a name,
     A pasture to the shaggy goats of Pan,
     Whence flee forever a woman and a man.

     Only until this cigarette is ended,
     A little moment at the end of all,
     While on the floor the quiet ashes fall,
     And in the firelight to a lance extended,
     Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended,
     The broken shadow dances on the wall,
     I will permit my memory to recall
     The vision of you, by all my dreams attended.
     And then adieu,—farewell!—the dream is done.
     Yours is a face of which I can forget
     The color and the features, every one,
     The words not ever, and the smiles not yet;
     But in your day this moment is the sun
     Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

     Once more into my arid days like dew,
     Like wind from an oasis, or the sound
     Of cold sweet water bubbling underground,
     A treacherous messenger, the thought of you
     Comes to destroy me; once more I renew
     Firm faith in your abundance, whom I found
     Long since to be but just one other mound
     Of sand, whereon no green thing ever grew.
     And once again, and wiser in no wise,
     I chase your colored phantom on the air,
     And sob and curse and fall and weep and rise
     And stumble pitifully on to where,
     Miserable and lost, with stinging eyes,
     Once more I clasp,—and there is nothing there.

     No rose that in a garden ever grew,
     In Homer's or in Omar's or in mine,
     Though buried under centuries of fine
     Dead dust of roses, shut from sun and dew
     Forever, and forever lost from view,
     But must again in fragrance rich as wine
     The grey aisles of the air incarnadine
     When the old summers surge into a new.
     Thus when I swear, "I love with all my heart,"
     'Tis with the heart of Lilith that I swear,
     'Tis with the love of Lesbia and Lucrece;
     And thus as well my love must lose some part
     Of what it is, had Helen been less fair,
     Or perished young, or stayed at home in Greece.

     When I too long have looked upon your face,
     Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
     Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
     And terrible beauty not to be endured,
     I turn away reluctant from your light,
     And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
     A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
     From having looked too long upon the sun.
     Then is my daily life a narrow room
     In which a little while, uncertainly,
     Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
     Among familiar things grown strange to me
     Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
     Till I become accustomed to the dark.

     And you as well must die, beloved dust,
     And all your beauty stand you in no stead;
     This flawless, vital hand, this perfect head,
     This body of flame and steel, before the gust
     Of Death, or under his autumnal frost,
     Shall be as any leaf, be no less dead
     Than the first leaf that fell,—this wonder fled.
     Altered, estranged, disintegrated, lost.
     Nor shall my love avail you in your hour.
     In spite of all my love, you will arise
     Upon that day and wander down the air
     Obscurely as the unattended flower,
     It mattering not how beautiful you were,
     Or how beloved above all else that dies.

     Let you not say of me when I am old,
     In pretty worship of my withered hands
     Forgetting who I am, and how the sands
     Of such a life as mine run red and gold
     Even to the ultimate sifting dust, "Behold,
     Here walketh passionless age!"—for there expands
     A curious superstition in these lands,
     And by its leave some weightless tales are told.

     In me no lenten wicks watch out the night;
     I am the booth where Folly holds her fair;
     Impious no less in ruin than in strength,
     When I lie crumbled to the earth at length,
     Let you not say, "Upon this reverend site
     The righteous groaned and beat their breasts in prayer."

     Oh, my beloved, have you thought of this:
     How in the years to come unscrupulous Time,
     More cruel than Death, will tear you from my kiss,
     And make you old, and leave me in my prime?
     How you and I, who scale together yet
     A little while the sweet, immortal height
     No pilgrim may remember or forget,
     As sure as the world turns, some granite night
     Shall lie awake and know the gracious flame
     Gone out forever on the mutual stone;
     And call to mind that on the day you came
     I was a child, and you a hero grown?—
     And the night pass, and the strange morning break
     Upon our anguish for each other's sake!

     As to some lovely temple, tenantless
     Long since, that once was sweet with shivering brass,
     Knowing well its altars ruined and the grass
     Grown up between the stones, yet from excess
     Of grief hard driven, or great loneliness,
     The worshiper returns, and those who pass
     Marvel him crying on a name that was,—
     So is it now with me in my distress.
     Your body was a temple to Delight;
     Cold are its ashes whence the breath is fled,
     Yet here one time your spirit was wont to move;
     Here might I hope to find you day or night,
     And here I come to look for you, my love,
     Even now, foolishly, knowing you are dead.

     Cherish you then the hope I shall forget
     At length, my lord, Pieria?—put away
     For your so passing sake, this mouth of clay
     These mortal bones against my body set,
     For all the puny fever and frail sweat
     Of human love,—renounce for these, I say,
     The Singing Mountain's memory, and betray
     The silent lyre that hangs upon me yet?
     Ah, but indeed, some day shall you awake,
     Rather, from dreams of me, that at your side
     So many nights, a lover and a bride,
     But stern in my soul's chastity, have lain,
     To walk the world forever for my sake,
     And in each chamber find me gone again!


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