A Celebration of Women Writers

"The Poet and His Book" by Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
From Millay, Edna St. Vincent. Second April   New York: Mitchell Kennerley, 1921. pp. 39-46.

[Page 39] 


Down, you mongrel, Death!
  Back into your kennel!
I hove stolen breath
  In a stalk of fennel!
You shall scratch and you shall whine
  Many a night, and you shall worry
  Many a bone, before you bury
One sweet bone of mine!

When shall I be dead?
  When my flesh is withered,
And above my head
  Yellow pollen gathered

[Page 40] 

All the empty afternoon?
  When sweet lovers pause and wonder
  Who am I that lie thereunder,
Hidden from the moon?

This my personal death?
  That my lungs be failing
To inhale the breath
  Others are exhaling?
This my subtle spirit's end?
  Ah, when the thawed winter splashes
  Over these chance dust and ashes,
Weep not me, my friend!

Me, by no means dead
  In that hour, but surely
When this book, unread,

[Page 41] 

  Rots to earth obscurely,
And no more to any breast,
  Close against the clamorous swelling
  Of the thing there is no telling,
Are these pages pressed!

When this book is mould,
  And a book of many
Waiting to be sold
  For a casual penny,
In a little open case,
  In a street unclean and cluttered,
  Where a heavy mud is spattered
From the passing drays,

Stranger, pause and look;
  From the dust of ages

[Page 42] 

Lift this little book,
  Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die !
  Search the fading letters, finding
  Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I !

When these veins are weeds,
  When these hollowed sockets
Watch the rooty seeds
  Bursting down like rockets,
And surmise the spring again,
  Or, remote in that black cupboard,
  Watch the pink worms writhing upward
At the smell of rain,

Boys and girls that lie

[Page 43] 

  Whispering in the hedges,
Do not let me die,
  Mix me with your pledges;
Boys and girls that slowly walk
  In the woods, and weep, and quarrel,
  Staring past the pink wild laurel,
Mix me with your talk,

Do not let me die !
  Farmers at your raking,
When the sun is high,
  While the hay is making,
When, along the stubble strewn,
  Withering on their stalks uneaten,
  Strawberries turn dark and sweeten
In the lapse of noon;

[Page 44] 

Shepherds on the hills,
  In the pastures, drowsing
To the tinkling bells
  Of the brown sheep browsing;
Sailors crying through the storm;
  Scholars at your study; hunters
  Lost amid the whirling winter's
Whiteness uniform;

Men that long for sleep;
  Men that wake and revel,
If an old song leap
  To your senses' level
At such moments, may it be
  Sometimes, though a moment only,
  Some forgotten, quaint and homely
Vehicle of me !

[Page 45] 

Women at your toil,
  Women at your leisure
Till the kettle boil,
  Snatch of me your pleasure,
Where the broom-straw marks the leaf;
  Women quiet with your weeping
  Lest you wake a workman sleeping,
Mix me with your grief !

Boys and girls that steal
  From the shocking laughter
Of the old, to kneel
  By a dripping rafter
Under the discolored eaves,
  Out of trunks with hingeless covers
  Lifting tales of saints and lovers,
Travelers, goblins, thieves,

[Page 46] 

Suns that shine by night,
  Mountains made from valleys,
Bear me to the light,
  Flat upon your bellies
By the webby window lie,
  Where the little flies are crawling,
  Read me, margin me with scrawling,
Do not let me die !

Sexton, ply your trade!
  In a shower of gravel
Stamp upon your spade!
  Many a rose shall ravel,
Many a metal wreath shall rust
  In the rain, and I go singing
  Through the lots where you are flinging
Yellow clay on dust!

[Page 47]

Editor: Mary Mark Ockerbloom