...it's not dark yet, but it's gettin' there...

September 13, 2006

Wednesday Is Poetry Day

If Edna St. Vincent Millay were alive today, it's probably even money that she'd be against the Iraq War. She was a complicated person: pacifist, socialist, activist, feminist and bisexual. Yet when World War II threatened she put aside her pacifism, and argued strongly against the isolationists. She also wrote several poems urging us to take the Nazis seriously.

Here's one. Replace "Hitler" with the contemporary height challenged dictator of your choice, and the poem's warning sounds true today.

And Then There Were None

Ten white ptarmigan
      Perching in a pine;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were nine.

Nine white ptarmigan
      Trusting in their fate;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were eight.

Eight white ptarmigan
      Putting trust in Heaven;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were seven.

Seven white ptarmigan
      In a pretty fix;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were six.

Six white ptarmigan
      Hoping to survive;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were five.

Five white ptarmigan
      Wishing they were more;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were four.

Four white ptarmigan
      Trying to agree;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were three.

Three white ptarmigan
      Feeling very few;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there were two.

Two white ptarmigan
      Cried, "It can't be done!"
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      And then there was one.

One white ptarmigan
      Looked about and blinked;
Hitler gave his solemn oath:
      The race is now extinct.

Another Millay poem from 1940, definitely worth reading is the longer "There Are No Islands Anymore." In it, Vincent chastised the Isolationists and promoted American support for England against the Nazis.

Read it here. I particularly like this stanza.

On English soil, on French terrain,
Democracy's at grips again
With forces forged to stamp it out.
This time no quarter!—since no doubt.
Not France, not England's what's involved,
Not we,—there's something to be solved
Of grave concern to free men all:
Can Freedom stand?—Must Freedom fall?

(Meantime, the tide devours the shore:
There are no islands any more)

Posted by annika, Sep. 13, 2006 | TrackBack (0)
Rubric: Poetry


I love Millay. Thanks for this.

Posted by: red on Sep. 13, 2006

I have never read that -- you're right, "no more islands" is powerful enough that even a feminist pacifist can say, "right on."

Posted by: Hugo Schwyzer on Sep. 13, 2006

Your post inspired me to post another poem from the WWII era, this one by Stephen Vincent Benet.

Posted by: david foster on Sep. 14, 2006

here are a couple of slideshows I did at youtube, along with some slightly adulterated lyrics to popular songs

Posted by: Jed Marlin on Sep. 15, 2006

Here is another by ESVM:

Make bright the arrows
Gather the shields:
Conquest narrows
The peaceful fields.

Stock well the quiver
With arrows bright:
The bowman feared
Need never fight.

Make bright the arrows,
O peaceful and wise!
Gather the shields
Against surprise.

Posted by: Retread on Sep. 15, 2006