Wednesday, April 3, 2013

In Crude Homage to Edna St Vincent Millay

[From my Facebook page, originally written in February 2010, and here lightly edited.  I've been thinking about posting poetry here a bit, especially as it's National Poetry Month and all.]

Sonnets are convenient lunchtime reading material: short, yet dense with rhythm and sense (when reasonably well written). I've been working my way haphazardly through a collection of sonnets by Edna St Vincent Millay, one of the great romantic poets—at least, so say those who would know. Not to put too fine a point on it, I like them. What's more, I've been informed that it is a prominent chick-lit marker for the protagonist taking herself (over) seriously when she reads or even quotes poetry by Millay.

Well, I am nothing if not self-aggrandizing (often in the guise of self-deprecation), so despite my obvious gender challenge—being a guy—I have taken it upon myself to attempt a quasi-imitation of Millay. ("Aping" might be more apt a word.) I have used, as she does, the sonnet form (of a fittingly quasi-Petrarchan variety), and I have also taken as my subject unrequited affection, a common enough Millay theme. I have not, however, tried generally to affect the effortless facility with which she, Yoda-like, twists normal English word order like a pretzel. (I believe that the subject is permitted to precede the predicate at most once per stanza.)

By the way, Millay's name being two and a third dactyls lends itself conveniently to the limerick form. So as a kind of appetizer, and by way of introduction:

To Ms Edna St Vincent Millay,
I now offer this humble assay.
    For her sonnets are kings
    Of romantical things
And just what they're about none can say.

And perhaps you'll find that you like the appetizer better than the main course anyway.

in crude homage to edna st vincent millay

Your lips not once did tender mine, and yet

I loved you—no, and never once your hand
grasped mine in supplicating fever, and
I loved you still—nor even did you let
your eyebrows knit, or mouth to trembling set,
and still I loved you. (Once, perhaps, unplanned,
to quell persistent pity's keen demand,
you touched my head, as one would with a pet.)
Thus singularly blessed I count those days
where in a wondrous haze I hoped (or guessed)
that glances cast in jest were courting plays
to clasp in rapt amazement to my breast.
    And so I say—in seeking Love's mad thrall—
    you loved me best who loved me not at all.

Copyright © 2010 Brian Tung

EDIT: This sonnet can be considered a kind of lame reply to this one by Millay.

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