Dirge Without MusicI don't remember when or how I first stumbled across Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Dirge Without Music," but it's one of the most beautiful poems I've ever read, and the sentiment behind it, or at least the light in which that sentiment is expressed, is one that I haven't quite seen anywhere else before. There are plenty of poems about accepting mortality, about fearing death, or about having faith in rebirth and eternal life -- but this one is something different, accepting and rejecting in the same breath, believing one thing and desperately clinging to another. There's a feeling of bitter determination, almost outright rage against death in this poem; and yet it's tempered, dampened, if only between the lines, by its own inherent futility: the desperate vanity of a struggle against what cannot possibly be overcome, knowing that it cannot be overcome, but also knowing that to submit would be to forfeit everything, to give up humanity to its inevitable end.
Edna St. Vincent Millay
I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.
Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains, --- but the best is lost.
The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,
They are gone. They have gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.
Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.
It is, in short, a poem at odds with itself, recognizing its own wilfull blindness, but persisting blindly all the same -- not even because it believes that it can change the truth, but simply because the truth is too awful to bear accepting.
Just my sort of poem.