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Dirge Without Music -- Edna St Vincent Millay

(Poem #926) Dirge Without Music
 I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
 So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
 Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
 With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
 Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
 Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
 A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
 A formula, a phrase remains,--but the best is lost.
 The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love, --
 They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
 Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
 More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
 Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave,
 Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
 Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
 I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
 Rhyme scheme: abab.
 Metre: irregular.

 What can one say about a poem as magnificent as this? That it's defiant,
and courageous, and resolute? Or that it's sad, and lonely, and vulnerable?
That it's finely crafted, meticulously detailed, skilfully plotted? Or that
it's raw, visceral, spontaneous? Choose what adjectives you will (and to be
honest, I think _all_ of the above apply); the truth is, the poem speaks for
itself more powerfully than any second-hand description could ever hope to
do. So go, read it again, and think, and feel, and be grateful for Millay,
for Yeats, for Auden, for William Shakespeare and Dylan Thomas and John
Donne, for Robert  Browning, John Keats, Rudyard Kipling, for Tennyson and
Eliot and Pound and Dickinson, for Li Po, Omar Khayyam, Matsuo Basho -- in
short, for all the wonderful poets who've written all the wonderful poems
that it has been my privilege and joy to share with this list.


[Minstrels Links]

Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Poem #34, First Fig
Poem #49, The Unexplorer
Poem #108, The Penitent
Poem #317, Inland
Poem #590, Sonnet XLIII
Poem #604, Euclid Alone Has Looked On Beauty Bare
Poem #817, Grown-up
Poem #860, Sonnet: Love Is Not All
Poem #905, Sonnet: I will put Chaos into Fourteen Lines

Elegies and the like:
Poem #38, Do Not Go Gentle Into That Good Night  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #46, Lament for Boromir  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #50, In Memory of W. B. Yeats  -- W. H. Auden
Poem #144, On the Eve of His Execution  -- Chidiock Tichborne
Poem #157, O Captain! My Captain!  -- Walt Whitman
Poem #220, Lament for Eorl the Young  -- J. R. R. Tolkien
Poem #256, Funeral Blues  -- W. H. Auden
Poem #286, An Elegy on the Death of a Mad Dog  -- Oliver Goldsmith
Poem #335, After the Funeral (In memory of Ann Jones)  -- Dylan Thomas
Poem #392, Good  -- R. S. Thomas
Poem #448, To The Immortal Memory of the Halibut,
  On Which I Dined This Day, Monday, April 26, 1784  -- William Cowper
Poem #500, A Dirge  -- Percy Bysshe Shelley
Poem #574, Growltiger's Last Stand -- T. S. Eliot
Poem #672, Death -- Thomas Hood
Poem #707, The Death of the Ball Turret Gunner -- Randall Jarrell
Poem #751, Elegies -- Guillevic
Poem #770, A Thing of Beauty is a Joy for Ever -- John Keats
Poem #774, Ray -- Hayden Carruth
Poem #796, Death Be Not Proud (Holy Sonnets: X) -- John Donne
Poem #918, John Kinsella's Lament for Mrs Mary Moore -- William Butler Yeats

Poem #921, Charlie Freak -- Steely Dan

50 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

John B. McLaughlin said...

Who is Ends St Vincent Millay, where was he/she born, and where does he/she live now. Thank you.

Mike Houlding said...

Over the years I've read and reread this masterpiece many hundreds of times.
And like the poet "I am not resigned" the finality of death and the incalculable loss of such priceless human qualities.
The poem raises the question of consciousness, of the essence of thought, of logic and what it means to be alive.
It suggests that the search for the meaning of existence is perpetual and that life cannot be purpose-less.
An angry, frustrated and magnificent work of art.

Mike Houlding

D and K A TURNER said...

when i read the dirge. It took my breath away. That someone could express grief so aptley. I cannot imagine how some poeple can think so beautifuly. poem by EDNA ST VINCENT MILLAY

MarquitaReeves said...

Being in great distress at the death of my parents in an auto, and needing lines for their gravestone, I remembered and had engraved lines from this poem.

Quotation marks were not allowed, as I combined words from two lines:

Down they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind

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Anonymous said...

Immensely beautiful, powerful, and expressive poem about the futility and senselessness of Death upon those who have so much to give, so much to serve and so much to show..thanks for this very lovely, profound poem by Edna St Vincent Millay.

by sonia s. sicat

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