The Poet and His Book

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Down, you mongrel, Death!
   Back into your kennel!
I have stolen breath
   In a stalk of fennel!
You shall scratch and you shall whine
   Many a night, and you shall worry
   Many a bone, before you bury
One sweet bone of mine!

When shall I be dead?
   When my flesh is withered,
And above my head
   Yellow pollen gathered
All the empty afternoon?
   When sweet lovers pause and wonder
   Who am I that lie thereunder,
Hidden from the moon?

This my personal death?—
   That lungs be failing
To inhale the breath
   Others are exhaling?
This my subtle spirit's end?—
   Ah, when the thawed winter splashes
   Over these chance dust and ashes,
Weep not me, my friend!

Me, by no means dead
   In that hour, but surely
When this book, unread,
   Rots to earth obscurely,
And no more to any breast,
   Close against the clamorous swelling
   Of the thing there is no telling,
Are these pages pressed!

When this book is mould,
   And a book of many
Waiting to be sold
   For a casual penny,
In a little open case,
   In a street unclean and cluttered,
   Where a heavy mud is spattered
From the passing drays,

Stranger, pause and look;
   From the dust of ages
Lift this little book,
   Turn the tattered pages,
Read me, do not let me die!
   Search the fading letters, finding
   Steadfast in the broken binding
All that once was I!

When these veins are weeds,
   When these hollowed sockets
Watch the rooty seeds
   Bursting down like rockets,
And surmise the spring again,
   Or, remote in that black cupboard,
   Watch the pink worms writhing upward
At the smell of rain,

Boys and girls that lie
   Whispering in the hedges,
Do not let me die,
   Mix me with your pledges;
Boys and girls that slowly walk
   In the woods, and weep, and quarrel,
   Staring past the pink wild laurel,
Mix me with your talk,

Do not let me die!
   Farmers at your raking,
When the sun is high,
   While the hay is making,
When, along the stubble strewn,
   Withering on their stalks uneaten,
   Strawberries turn dark and sweeten
In the lapse of noon;

Shepherds on the hills,
   In the pastures, drowsing
To the tinkling bells
   Of the brown sheep browsing;
Sailors crying through the storm;
   Scholars at your study; hunters
   Lost amid the whirling winter's
Whiteness uniform;

Men that long for sleep;
   Men that wake and revel;—
If an old song leap
   To your senses' level
At such moments, may it be
   Sometimes, though a moment only,
   Some forgotten, quaint and homely
Vehicle of me!

Women at your toil,
   Women at your leisure
Till the kettle boil,
   Snatch of me your pleasure,
Where the broom-straw marks the leaf;
   Women quiet with your weeping
   Lest you wake a workman sleeping,
Mix me with your grief!

Boys and girls that steal
   From the shocking laughter
Of the old, to kneel
   By a dripping rafter
Under the discolored eaves,
   Out of trunks with hingeless covers
   Lifting tales of saints and lovers,
Travelers, goblins, thieves,

Suns that shine by night,
   Mountains made from valleys,—
Bear me to the light,
   Flat upon your bellies
By the webby window lie,
   Where the little flies are crawling,—
   Read me, margin me with scrawling,
Do not let me die!

Sexton, ply your trade!
   In a shower of gravel
Stamp upon your spade!
   Many a rose shall ravel,
Many a metal wreath shall rust
   In the rain, and I go singing
   Through the lots where you are flinging
Yellow clay on dust!

Monadnock Valley Press > Millay