I hope you have been enjoying the sunny glories of the season. Most nature poems approach a mystical yearning, where the verdant earth–or perhaps its frozen majesty–takes the place of the divine in the spiritual seeker’s imagination. Today’s sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) seems more like an ornate "STFU," but is a nature poem nonetheless. Its natural descriptions will have relevance for those readers lucky enough to live coastally, as well as for us landlocked schlubs inbetween.
Millay was born in the year of Walt Whitman’s death, and was widely read and critically lauded throughout her career. In a post-career appraisal, Allen Tate remarked that she used nineteenth-century language to express twentieth century thoughts. Here she employs a strict Shakepearean sonnet (16th century!), plain-spoken syntax and vocabulary, and the stretched-out metaphors of the nature poem to express thoughts that, here from my 21st-century vantage, seem eminently relatable. -ed.
Hearing your words, and not a word among them Tuned to my liking, on a salty day When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray, I thought how off Matinicus the tide Came pounding in, came running through the Gut, While from the Rock the warning whistle cried, And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut; There in the autumn when the men go forth, With slapping skirts the island women stand In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north, With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand: The wind of their endurance, driving south, Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.