Longing

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years.

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Edna St. Vincent Millay

I’m currently re-reading a short collection of poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay that I’ve had for years (Selected Poems). I love Millay’s style, even when I disagree with her philosophy on life. In my mind, she’s up there next to Frost in her ability to capture something of what C.S. Lewis described this way:

“the inconsolable secret in each one of you–the secret which hurts so much that you take your revenge on it by calling it names like Nostalgia and Romanticism and Adolescence; the secret also which pierces with such sweetness that when, in very intimate conversation, the mention of it becomes imminent, we grow awkward and affect to laugh at ourselves; the secret we cannot hide and cannot tell, though we desire to do both. We cannot tell it because it is a desire for something that has never actually appeared in our experience. We cannot hide it because our experience is constantly suggesting it, and we betray ourselves like lovers at the mention of a name. Our commonest expedient is to call it beauty and behave as if that settled the matter … But all this is a cheat … The books or the music in which we thought the beauty was located will betray us if we trust to them; it was not in them, it only came through them, and what came through them was longing. These things–the beauty, the memory of our own past–are good images of what we really desire; but if they are mistaken for the thing itself, they turn into dumb idols, breaking the hearts of their worshippers.” (The Weight of Glory)

Millay was not a Christian. But her work frequently expresses the longing Lewis described–a wordless aching for something we’ve never even seen; an aching ultimately filled only by seeing the perfections of Christ and becoming in reality what we (Christians) are currently positionally. As 1 John 3:2 says, “Beloved, we are God’s children now, and what we will be has not yet appeared; but we know that when he appears we shall be like him, because we shall see him as he is.”

Here’s a couple of my favorites from Millay:

Assault

I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

Wild Swans

I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over.
And what did I see I had not seen before?
Only a question less or a question more;
Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.
Tiresome heart, forever living and dying,
House without air, I leave you and lock your door.
Wild swans, come over the town, come over
The town again, trailing your legs and crying!

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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