The Blue-Flag in the Bog


The Blue-Flag in the Bog was published in Millay's collection, Second April (1921).
John Constable, Extensive Landscape with Clouds

     God had called us, and we came;
       Our loved Earth to ashes left;
     Heaven was a neighbor's house,
       Open to us, bereft.

     Gay the lights of Heaven showed,
       And 'twas God who walked ahead;
     Yet I wept along the road,
       Wanting my own house instead.

     Wept unseen, unheeded cried,
       "All you things my eyes have kissed,
     Fare you well!  We meet no more,
       Lovely, lovely tattered mist!

     Weary wings that rise and fall
       All day long above the fire!"—
     Red with heat was every wall,
       Rough with heat was every wire—

     "Fare you well, you little winds
       That the flying embers chase!
     Fare you well, you shuddering day,
       With your hands before your face!

     And, ah, blackened by strange blight,
       Or to a false sun unfurled,
     Now forevermore goodbye,
       All the gardens in the world!

     On the windless hills of Heaven,
       That I have no wish to see,
     White, eternal lilies stand,
       By a lake of ebony.

     But the Earth forevermore
       Is a place where nothing grows,—
     Dawn will come, and no bud break;
       Evening, and no blossom close.

     Spring will come, and wander slow
       Over an indifferent land,
     Stand beside an empty creek,
       Hold a dead seed in her hand."

     God had called us, and we came,
       But the blessed road I trod
     Was a bitter road to me,
       And at heart I questioned God.

     "Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
       That the heart would most desire,
     Held Earth naught save souls of sinners
       Worth the saving from a fire?

     Withered grass,—the wasted growing!
       Aimless ache of laden boughs!"
     Little things God had forgotten
       Called me, from my burning house.

     "Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
       That the eye could ask to see,
     All the things I ever knew
       Are this blaze in back of me."

     "Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
       That the ear could think to lack,
     All the things I ever knew
       Are this roaring at my back."

     It was God who walked ahead,
       Like a shepherd to the fold;
     In his footsteps fared the weak,
       And the weary and the old,

     Glad enough of gladness over,
       Ready for the peace to be,—
     But a thing God had forgotten
       Was the growing bones of me.

     And I drew a bit apart,
       And I lagged a bit behind,
     And I thought on Peace Eternal,
       Lest He look into my mind:

     And I gazed upon the sky,
       And I thought of Heavenly Rest,—
     And I slipped away like water
       Through the fingers of the blest!

     All their eyes were fixed on Glory,
       Not a glance brushed over me;
     "Alleluia!  Alleluia!"
       Up the road,—and I was free.

     And my heart rose like a freshet,
       And it swept me on before,
     Giddy as a whirling stick,
       Till I felt the earth once more.

     All the earth was charred and black,
       Fire had swept from pole to pole;
     And the bottom of the sea
       Was as brittle as a bowl;

     And the timbered mountain-top
       Was as naked as a skull,—
     Nothing left, nothing left,
       Of the Earth so beautiful!

     "Earth," I said, "how can I leave you?"
       "You are all I have," I said;
     "What is left to take my mind up,
       Living always, and you dead?"

     "Speak!" I said, "Oh, tell me something!
       Make a sign that I can see!
     For a keepsake!  To keep always!
       Quick!—before God misses me!"

     And I listened for a voice;—
       But my heart was all I heard;
     Not a screech-owl, not a loon,
       Not a tree-toad said a word.

     And I waited for a sign;—
       Coals and cinders, nothing more;
     And a little cloud of smoke
       Floating on a valley floor.

     And I peered into the smoke
       Till it rotted, like a fog:—
     There, encompassed round by fire,
       Stood a blue-flag in a bog!

     Little flames came wading out,
       Straining, straining towards its stem,
     But it was so blue and tall
       That it scorned to think of them!

     Red and thirsty were their tongues,
       As the tongues of wolves must be,
     But it was so blue and tall—
       Oh, I laughed, I cried, to see!

     All my heart became a tear,
       All my soul became a tower,
     Never loved I anything
       As I loved that tall blue flower!

     It was all the little boats
       That had ever sailed the sea,
     It was all the little books
       That had gone to school with me;

     On its roots like iron claws
       Rearing up so blue and tall,—
     It was all the gallant Earth
       With its back against a wall!

     In a breath, ere I had breathed,—
       Oh, I laughed, I cried, to see!—
     I was kneeling at its side,
       And it leaned its head on me!

     Crumbling stones and sliding sand
       Is the road to Heaven now;
     Icy at my straining knees
       Drags the awful under-tow;

     Soon but stepping-stones of dust
       Will the road to Heaven be,—
     Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
       Reach a hand and rescue me!

     "There—there, my blue-flag flower;
       Hush—hush—go to sleep;
     That is only God you hear,
       Counting up His folded sheep!

       That is only God that calls,
     Missing me, seeking me,
       Ere the road to nothing falls!

     He will set His mighty feet
       Firmly on the sliding sand;
     Like a little frightened bird
       I will creep into His hand;

     I will tell Him all my grief,
       I will tell Him all my sin;
     He will give me half His robe
       For a cloak to wrap you in.

       Rocks the burnt-out planet free!—
     Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
       Reach a hand and rescue me!

     Ah, the voice of love at last!
       Lo, at last the face of light!
     And the whole of His white robe
       For a cloak against the night!

     And upon my heart asleep
       All the things I ever knew!—
     "Holds Heaven not some cranny, Lord,
       For a flower so tall and blue?"

     All's well and all's well!
       Gay the lights of Heaven show!
     In some moist and Heavenly place
       We will set it out to grow.


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