(Poem #1827) An Ancient Gesture
I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron: Penelope did this too. And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day And undoing it all through the night; Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight; And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light, And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years, Suddenly you burst into tears; There is simply nothing else to do. And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron: This is an ancient gesture, authentic, Greek; Ulysses did this too. But only as a gesture - a gesture which implied To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak. He learned it from Penelope... Penelope, who really cried.
I've been reading a lot of Millay recently, trying to figure out precisely what it is I find so compelling about her poetry. She's moved, in a remarkably few years, from someone I'd barely heard of to my favourite poet after Kipling - indeed, I think my primary wonder nowadays is not that I like her so much, but that it took me so long to discover her. Part of it, I think, is that (again, like Kipling), almost all of her work appeals to me. Contrast this with, say, Keats - at his best he is unutterably brilliant, but those poems that are *not* among his best give me very little pleasure; I don't think I could spend an afternoon randomly dipping into his work. Millay, on the other hand is delightful (I hesitate to use as objective a word as 'good' here, because this is definitely a personal thing) all the way through, from deservedly famous gems like her Sonnet XLIII (Poem #590; I'd rank it up there with anything Shakespeare wrote) to minor pieces like "Grown Up" (Poem #817). Today's poem is a good case in point - I wouldn't ever expect to see it in a "Best Poems" anthology, but I'd be totally unsurprised at its inclusion in someone's "Favourite Poems" collection. It has that typically Millay combination of beauty and unexpectedness, combined with such perfect timing that your breath catches at the end, and such precise imagery that lines continue to haunt you long after the rest of the poem has faded. martin  and indeed, a quick google search brings up [broken link] http://katebenedict.com/LectioMillay.htm [Links] Wikipedia on Millay: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Edna_St._Vincent_Millay Ulysses and Penelope: http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Penelope An interesting companion piece is Dorothy Parker's "Penelope": http://www.poemhunter.com/p/m/poem.asp?poet=6640&poem=52488