Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry – “Everywhere I look you are – but you’re nowhere…” poem on death of her loved one. (Mar. 2009)

Susan's Thursday morning note March 26, 2009 
Edna St. Vincent Millay poetry – “Everywhere I look you are, but you’re nowhere…” 
        Poem on death of her loved one.

Good morning!   If you have read my notes for a long time you may remember me mentioning reading poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay.  A book arrived a few years ago in my home because we were in a book club.  The book was Early Poems.   Below is a beautiful poem on the loss of someone that she loved.

Everywhere I look you are, but you're nowhere.  
The room is full of you....  

You are not here.  I know that you are gone, 
and will not ever enter here again.

And yet it seems to me, if I should speak,
Your silent step must wake across the hall;

if I should turn my head,that your sweet eyes 
Would kiss me from the door. - So short a time

To teach my life its transposition to
This difficult and unaccustomed key!

There is your book, just as you laid it down,
And here are the last words your fingers wrote...in this brown book I gave you...
you did not know you would not write again....

("I picked the first sweet-pea today.")
What is the need of Heaven
When earth can be so sweet?

In December I found a biography on this woman in an old antique shop in Wisconsin Dells.   I was intrigued that she wrote the above lines in college, without even experiencing grief firsthand.  She was known for her intuitions, her feelings for others, her empathy.  She is such a fascinating girl & this is what I’ve underlined so far in the book – I hope you can picture parts of yourself or friends in what you read about her.  Now we will find out who the girl/woman is behind the words above that I was immediately captured by.

As a child:

…despite the girls’ passionate love for mankind, for the wondrous earth she inhabited, she was destined always to be in some measure a solitary soul.

...she seemed a child born with love and laughter on her lips, and a foreknowledge of life’s sorrow as well as its joy...quicksilver responses to life and the varying moods of others…her wonder at each new discovery in the world around her, from her own tiny perfect hands to the first flowers and birds her eyes beheld, she seemed transfixed with joy and awesome delight.  Yet her expression changed to one of sadness when her mother’s face was troubled, and her sympathy flowed intuitively.  (Her father left her mother when she was a young child – she had two younger sisters she cared for in Maine).

…immediate grasp and love of music, she early showed the signs of the rarely gifted….small Vincent seemed indeed to be the embodiment of the poetic and the saintly, combined with a pantheistic joy in being alive.

…just as she sang for sensual pleasure and played the piano for the thrill of the sound.

Strength of her mother in raising her daughters alone:

…she had the courage to act on her conviction.

Cora Millay valued the things of the spirit, especially the arts, above all else in the world.  no daughter of hers would ever be told to pick up her room if a poem was in the process of creation.  Instead, she would goad the project along, suggesting words if asked, or urging, “Look it up, look it up!” when unknown classical allusions arose in one of the girls’ reading.

…though Mrs. Millay earned hardly enough to pay the grocer or the coal company, she managed to provide her girls with the finest collection of books in Camden.  And she made it clear that she did not buy them for decoration!

…music indeed was as much a part of the Millay’s unusual household as literature.

…when Cora Millay saw her oldest daughter lying in the hammock with a book, she understood that the girl was not being lazy, but was extremely diligent in her scholarly pursuits.

As a young adult and published poet:

throughout her life she was to find peace and comfort as well as pleasure in  playing and in listening to music.  Toward the end she declared that of all the senses she would rather keep her hearing than any other,even more than the precious sense of sight, because of her love of music.

…(friendships)…they  spent long hours over innumerable cups of tea, talking, talking, talking their heads off, then dropping into silence – the “lovely, lovely silence” of unspoken communication between kindred spirits. 

This is a poetry book I have by my bed – for when I don’t have energy to read, the poems (though sometimes dark) reflect the inner thoughts so brilliantly that I could never myself put into words.  Can you picture a child or friend with her personality?  Reserved, passionate, intuitive, joyful?  I’ll always be especially endeared to her because she is my first taste of truly loving poetry.

And, with that, it’s snowing outside!  I thought spring was supposed to be here.  That gives me ample excuse for another cup of coffee.  No matter your circumstances never let your reality get the best of you.  Life truly is beautiful, no matter our losses.  Thank you so much for letting me come into your Thursday world.  If you only knew what your friendship, business, support of our store means.  Go take on your day.  Do something that makes you proud of yourself – something no one else will ever know you did.  Take a few minutes for yourself.  And, the verse that I repeat, and my friends repeat to me if I can’t grasp it on my own…that gives me peace no matter what my day brings…Be still and know that I am God.   I hope that in your silent prayer you receive the peace for your circumstances that only God can give.   Susan

Works Cited:
Gould, Jean.  The Poet and Her Book: A Biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay.  1969.  Dodd, Mead & Co.  New York.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent.  Early Poems.  1998.  Penguin Group.  New York.