Edna St Vincent Millay, poet (1892-1950)

Isn’t it interesting how we sometimes stumble across a poem which speaks to us. A few years back, I was lucky enough to have one of my poems What Saves Us chosen in a competition and printed onto posters which were displayed around hospitals in Leeds. A woman who had been visiting a sick relative in one of those hospitals contacted me via email to say how much reading that poem had helped her. It was wonderful to receive such a message. She even promised she would contact Radio Four’s Poetry Please and request it be read. Bless her, as if that request would ever be acquiesced to.

I remember when I first came across an Edna St Vincent Millay poem. I had turned up on a cold, dark winter evening at an out-of-the-way community hall to teach adult literacy. It was my first time there, I was anxious, flustered, and unsure anyone would turn up. There, on a poster on the wall, was one of Millay’s sonnets about the moon. I paused, I read it, I felt comforted.

It was one of her more caustic poems which slipped into my consciousness this weekend. It is simply called Sonnet and I think it beautiful. Here are some of its lines:

Time does not bring relief, you all have lied
who told me time would ease my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;

And entering with quiet relief some quiet place
Where never fell his boot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

I felt immediately moved to write my own response:

They lie, they lie, they lie,
those who say: ‘Time heals.’
For each moment is barbed
with your last words;
each moment is edged
by the loss of you.

Millay was dead before I was born and yet through the medium of poetry she communicates to me. Never let it be said that poetry is some kind of elite flummery. At it’s best, it can bind a stranger’s heart to another’s creating a sense of kinship and common humanity. And looking out into the world, it seems we need that more than ever.




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