The Poet and His Book


The Poet and His Book was published in Millay's collection, Second April (1921).
The Poet and His Book
Fennel, Heidelberg, Germany, 2011

     Down, you mongrel, Death!
       Back into your kennel!
     I have stolen breath
       In a stalk of fennel!
     You shall scratch and you shall whine
       Many a night, and you shall worry
       Many a bone, before you bury
     One sweet bone of mine!

     When shall I be dead?
       When my flesh is withered,
     And above my head
       Yellow pollen gathered
     All the empty afternoon?
       When sweet lovers pause and wonder
       Who am I that lie thereunder,
     Hidden from the moon?

     This my personal death?—
       That lungs be failing
     To inhale the breath
       Others are exhaling?
     This my subtle spirit's end?—
       Ah, when the thawed winter splashes
       Over these chance dust and ashes,
     Weep not me, my friend!

     Me, by no means dead
       In that hour, but surely
     When this book, unread,
       Rots to earth obscurely,
     And no more to any breast,
       Close against the clamorous swelling
       Of the thing there is no telling,
     Are these pages pressed!

     When this book is mould,
       And a book of many
     Waiting to be sold
       For a casual penny,
     In a little open case,
       In a street unclean and cluttered,
       Where a heavy mud is spattered
     From the passing drays,

     Stranger, pause and look;
       From the dust of ages
     Lift this little book,
       Turn the tattered pages,
     Read me, do not let me die!
       Search the fading letters, finding
       Steadfast in the broken binding
     All that once was I!

     When these veins are weeds,
       When these hollowed sockets
     Watch the rooty seeds
       Bursting down like rockets,
     And surmise the spring again,
       Or, remote in that black cupboard,
       Watch the pink worms writhing upward
     At the smell of rain,

     Boys and girls that lie
       Whispering in the hedges,
     Do not let me die,
       Mix me with your pledges;
     Boys and girls that slowly walk
       In the woods, and weep, and quarrel,
       Staring past the pink wild laurel,
     Mix me with your talk,

     Do not let me die!
       Farmers at your raking,
     When the sun is high,
       While the hay is making,
     When, along the stubble strewn,
       Withering on their stalks uneaten,
       Strawberries turn dark and sweeten
     In the lapse of noon;

     Shepherds on the hills,
       In the pastures, drowsing
     To the tinkling bells
       Of the brown sheep browsing;
     Sailors crying through the storm;
       Scholars at your study; hunters
       Lost amid the whirling winter's
     Whiteness uniform;

     Men that long for sleep;
       Men that wake and revel;—
     If an old song leap
       To your senses' level
     At such moments, may it be
       Sometimes, though a moment only,
       Some forgotten, quaint and homely
     Vehicle of me!

     Women at your toil,
       Women at your leisure
     Till the kettle boil,
       Snatch of me your pleasure,
     Where the broom-straw marks the leaf;
       Women quiet with your weeping
       Lest you wake a workman sleeping,
     Mix me with your grief!

     Boys and girls that steal
       From the shocking laughter
     Of the old, to kneel
       By a dripping rafter
     Under the discolored eaves,
       Out of trunks with hingeless covers
       Lifting tales of saints and lovers,
     Travelers, goblins, thieves,

     Suns that shine by night,
       Mountains made from valleys,—
     Bear me to the light,
       Flat upon your bellies
     By the webby window lie,
       Where the little flies are crawling,—
       Read me, margin me with scrawling,
     Do not let me die!

     Sexton, ply your trade!
       In a shower of gravel
     Stamp upon your spade!
       Many a rose shall ravel,
     Many a metal wreath shall rust
       In the rain, and I go singing
       Through the lots where you are flinging
     Yellow clay on dust!


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