Edna St. Vincent Millay, Poetry, random thinking, relationships, tolerating differences

I know I am but summer to your heart

Joe Pye WeedI have a lot of random thoughts, and I’m sometimes guilty of writing in random fashion, neglecting to show how one thought connects with another. In talk, too, I’m likely to confuse listeners with seemingly unrelated comments.

So what’s the connection between an Edna St. Vincent Millay poem and a habit of random thinking?  Only that the poem has been running through my mind, and I’m curious to know why. I hope this writing will help me figure it out.

The title is memorable, full of grace and suggestion. On the surface, the poem expresses an unusual relationship between two people, possibly Millay and her spouse (written the year before her marriage) or one of her lovers. Whoever the pair, she recognizes that they are not the limits of each other’s world: “…And you must welcome from another part / Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.”

Millay’s approach to this relationship seems unselfish, though maybe she’s looking for an ‘open marriage.’ Most of us aren’t generous that way. I want my closest relationship to be not just summer but three seasons and more.

The poem says it’s impossible to be everything another person needs or appreciates. It proposes a cordial acceptance of things we may not like, because otherwise, the relationship may be totally broken. To paraphrase, you don’t have to love everything about me. I don’t have to like everything about you or what you do, but unless I’m willing to break the relationship, I must care about your needs.

I like Millay’s acceptance of different needs. All relationships benefit from a little generosity. I think especially of countries where people with sectarian differences are breaking relationships, destroying property and killing each other. I wish people in warring families and sectarian groups cared more about the needs of those on the other side and less about their own fears. Fears are often exaggerated, false, and promoted by people with power and profit motives. I think violence in the world is the reason this poem keeps coming to mind.

Differences are not easy to live with. In our closest circles, we like harmony, cooperation, and at least our share of control. We want to be liked and approved, and we like people to agree with us.

We don’t have to give in to the other side or give up three seasons of the year. Maybe keeping some kind of relationship takes only two minutes a day—two minutes of respect for individuals we find hard to tolerate, for lifestyles we can’t understand, for people we condemn as greedy and incompetent, for a human who took a life, for groups that want to destroy us, for everyone who speaks and acts from fear of others. Two minutes of putting ourselves in their place.

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dear.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Wherefore I say: O love, as summer goes,
Steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.

All right, the poem is about a love relationship, not warring societies. And the photo shows Joe-Pye Weed, no connection to the post or poem, but bothering me in a random way because I couldn’t remember the name of this big purple bloomer.

You see what happens in the mind of a random thinker.

See Millay’s biography here:  http://www.poets.org/poet.php/prmPID/160

beautiful writing, Mennonites, Poetry, Sunday School

Novelists Should Read Poetry

I think novelists who want to write better should read poetry. So on this Monday morning I’m taking a break from writing to read I Saw God Dancing, poems by Cheryl Denise.

Good poets create intense experience with a few words. Reading poetry, I linger on phrases, savor lines, and pause at the end to think, something I do only rarely when reading novels. The experience is un-definable, more than sensory, like a probe to a little-used, mystical corner of the mind. After I read a Cheryl Denise poem, I want to say “thanks for giving.”Chery'sBook

I think I’m setting myself up for a good day.

The volume’s title is provocative, and as I start to read I can’t help searching for its inspiration, maybe a poem by the same title. The table of contents reveals no such poem, but I find the title’s roots in the first line of “Grace:” Mennonites don’t dance. Aha. I think a story is about to unfold.

I’m pulled to the next page and “Mennonite Poet,” a vivid memoir of infancy to sixteen in six short sections. I’m not Mennonite, but I can relate to this upbringing in the church, and I love the four-year-olds as they’re taught to pray in Sunday School, “Our Father,” we awkwardly mumble/ cheeks full of crackers.

If you aren’t familiar with Mennonites, this scene from Sunday Dinners, the second section of “Mennonite Poet” gives a glimpse of the culture both old and new:

We laugh as three men

rub their rough-trimmed beards and tell stories,

how they left the Old Order Church at eighteen,

no more farming or horse and buggies.

They met secretly one night at the corner of

Eli’s meadow and walked to the city.

Naïve, in suspenders and work boots,

they crossed on red.

A policeman gave them a ten-dollar ticket.

“Mennonite Poet” shows that even as we question the forces that nurture us, we seldom stray far from our roots. And we all may be more alike than different. In fact, the first half of the book is subtitled “Someone Like You.”

I read on. I’m going to have to be choosy about stopping to quote. You’ll have to get the book and do your own lingering. But before I go, I have to share the first half of “Communion.”

Patsy, my best friend, was Catholic.

They had communion every Sunday;

she thought four times a year wasn’t enough.

From a gold goblet they drank wine;

the Priest made it into the actual blood.

We drank Welch’s Grape Juice

from tiny plastic cups,

and washed feet.

I love the voice in these poems and the frankness that strikes a blow at our assumptions about people who may dress and pray differently. We harbor such odd and unrealistic beliefs, even about people we think we know well. Maybe if we could read each other’s poetry we’d achieve world peace. Spread the word.

I Saw God Dancing is part of the DreamSeeker series published by Cascadia Publishing House. I bought my copy at Mountain Treasures in Philippi. If you’re somewhere else in the world, you can get yours from Amazon: http://amzn.to/XDlDra