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(Poem #317) Inland
People that build their houses inland, People that buy a plot of ground Shaped like a house, and build a house there, Far from the sea-board, far from the sound Of water sucking the hollow ledges, Tons of water striking the shore -- What do they long for, as I long for One salt smell of the sea once more? People the waves have not awakened, Spanking the boats at the harbor's head, What do they long for, as I long for, -- Starting up in my inland bed, Beating the narrow walls, and finding Neither a window nor a door, Screaming to God for death by drowning -- One salt taste of the sea once more?
As long-time readers of the list are doubtless aware, I love sea poems and I love Millay, and this poem has disappointed neither set of expectations. The sea is, in some ways, the perfect embodiment of Nature -- boundless, untameable, "his Sea in no showing the same, his Sea and the same 'neath each showing" -- in short, the very antithesis of civilization and its "little boxes all the same". And Millay has captured this conflict beautifully, with a poem that traverses a spectrum of moods, starting off quietly and ending with a rising scream and a slap in the face. As with many sea poems this progression of moods is very likely intended to mirror the ever changing nature of the sea itself. This particular poem also reminds me of a breaking wave - the long, slow buildup, followed by the sudden rise and crash against an unyielding shore. And beneath the wave, the gentle undercurrent of ripples suggested by the repeated words and phrases. (Of course, it is all too easy to read more meanings and analogies into a poem than its author ever intended, but such resonances only enhance the experience; in the final anaylsis most poems are the joint creation of the poet and the reader.) m. Links: We've run a number of Millay poems in the past, all available at [broken link] http://www.cs.rice.edu/~ssiyer/minstrels/index_poet.html There's a Millay biography and some further links at poem #34