Sunday, December 03, 2006

"The rush of rain against the glass
Is louder than my noisy mind...."

Two lines by Edna St Vincent Millay who I was thinking about as I was woken up this morning by another storm. It sounded like the window was going to be forced in. I stood on the seafront last night just before I met a friend for a drink and felt its strength. It was just after 8pm, a waxing moon, the sea was raging - white surf, black patches of weed dragged off the rocks and groynes - and the wind pounding round corners.

I can't imagine being land-locked. Not being able to do this. Maybe this also draws me to Millay. Her love of the sea: "water sucking the hollow ledges, Tons of water striking the shore."

I'm reading Millay a lot at the moment. I like her modernity and the way she writes about love, lust, sex, convention and brings in spectacular lyrical imagery too.

What I would give to have written lines like: "The young are so old, they are born with their fingers crossed; I shall get no help from them." or "And there is no driftwood there, because there is no beach; Clean cliff going down as deep as clear water can reach;".

Millay's work is drenched in longing, always summoning up another place, another person, a need to dig deeper and deeper, to mine every moment in case it's snatched away. Take The Fitting, which uses the idea of a woman having a dress altered because she's lost weight - Millay uses this ordinary scene to create a drama so intense and compelling, the whole poem is charged with the unspoken story of a love affair and all the tension that suggests. It's a brilliantly sexy poem but so quietly done.

Her belief, in all her work, is that life should be lived at full pelt. There is no point in holding back, in standing on the sidelines. She's the champion of risk: "He that would eat of love must eat it where it hangs.......The winter of love is a cellar of empty bins, In an orchard soft with rot."

Carcanet Press does a good Selected Poems.

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