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Archive for the ‘Love’ Category

I think I should have loved you presently,
And given in earnest words I flung in jest;
And lifted honest eyes for you to see,
And caught your hand against my cheek and breast;
And all my pretty follies flung aside
That won you to me, and beneath your gaze,
Spread like a chart my little wicked ways.
I, that had been to you, had you remained,
But one more waking from a recurrent dream,
Cherish no less the certain stakes I gained,
And walk in your memory’s hall, austere, supreme,
A ghost in marble of the girl you knew
Who would have loved you in a day or two.

I can still remember the book I copied this out of.  It was on the shelves at a host family I stayed with in Washington, DC.  I had liked Edna St. Vincent Millay before, but this slim volume of her sonnets was new to me.  I was moving on in a day or two, but I copied this and a few others into my notebook to take with me.

Some of the impact of this poem comes from its form.  Millay wrote in a time before it was quite acceptable to discard rhyme and meter.  Her discipline shines through the careful word choice, and fitting of the subject matter into the sonnet form.  I don’t know if this is an Augustan or Sheakespearean sonnet (it’s been a long time since English Lit Junior year of high school when I learned the difference) but it doesn’t matter.  Millay is the master (mistress?) of the form.  She even hits the turning of the sonnet smack on.  The poem rings true as a bell, with no false note anywhere.  The heroic couplet at the end especially zings, set lightly at the end as the capstone that seals and finishes the piece.  It’s a beautiful thing.

The subject matter is also very interesting: attraction and a relationship that never gets off the ground.  The speaker is denying herself from the would-be beloved.  She shows how close she came to falling in love before some defect in the lover (his going away from her) brought her to her senses.  Love is a battle, a struggle.  In other poems Millay portrays herself as the besieged, but in this one she is the besieger who would have herself become ultimately vulnerable in the laying aside of her stratagems, but who has emerged triumphant by not giving in.

This poem is also significant for me personally.  Love and relationships have often been a struggle.  Sooner or later most people become cautious about who they allow themselves to love.  We approach the giving of ourselves in a relationship with care.  I can still remember the first time I was able to consciously decide not to fall in love with someone I was attracted to.  I know that too many times I have edged towards that brink, only to discover that the other person wasn’t really available or suitable or interested.  There can be a sense of, “Well, I would have loved you with all my heart, but now you don’t get me because you don’t really deserve me.”  This poem captures that sort of slightly outraged petulance very well.

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