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Ashes of Life -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Back after a period of net deprivation - thanks to Thomas for holding the
(Poem #956) Ashes of Life
 Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
     Eat I must, and sleep I will, -- and would that night were here!
 But ah! -- to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
     Would that it were day again! -- with twilight near!

 Love has gone and left me and I don't know what to do;
     This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
 But all the things that I begin I leave before I'm through, --
     There's little use in anything as far as I can see.

 Love has gone and left me, -- and the neighbors knock and borrow,
     And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse, --
 And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
     There's this little street and this little house.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
A beautiful poem, Millay giving me, as usual, that wonderful thrill of
seeing a poet get it wonderfully, satisfyingly *right*. And today's poem is
not just beautiful, but impressive - the concentration of imagery in each
line, the way the lines blend into a seamless whole, and the sheer music of
the words are breathtaking.

The way the poem's construction reinforces its content is worth a closer
look. "Love has gone and left me, and the days are all alike", starts the
poem, encouraging the reader to flow with, rather than seek to vary, the
rather metronomic rhythm. The invariance is reinforced by repetition - the
repetition of "love has gone and left me' at the start of each verse, the
parallel constructions like "eat I must and sleep I will', and the climactic
"And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow" all underscore the
poem's basic theme.

The most notable variation in the rhythm is the series of stresses in "slow
hours strike", where the words lose their rhythmic flow and gain an emphasis
that evokes the dull, weighty striking of the clock as it ticks the weary
hours off. This is followed immediately by the brilliant "Would that it
were day again! -- with twilight near!" - as perfect a phrasing of the
sentiment as any I've seen.

And finally, the poem appears to end uncharacteristically weakly - this is,
however, perfectly consistent - like the speaker's days and nights, the poem
has no satisfying conclusion, just a weary trailing off that promises no
change and no surcease.


Millay poems on Minstrels:
  Poem #34, First Fig [with biography and criticism]
  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
  Poem #926, Dirge Without Music


30 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Vin & Pat Quatraro said...

Have you heard of the book "Savage Beauty" it is a
biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Lynette Blair said...

I just lost a baby and this poem sears my heart. She says what I can not.

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