Friday, January 25, 2008

First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay

This week's poem is a small, perfect one from Millay that recently made the news. Heath Ledger's father mentioned it (thinking it was Tennyson's), reflecting on his son's life. It seems a fitting tribute.

First Fig

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, ME in 1892. Her fourth book of poetry, The Harp Weaver, earned her the Pulitzer Prize. She was openly bisexual, which sheds some light on the otherwise mysterious title here.


Anonymous Anonymous said...

short n sweet

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

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Blogger Glenn said...

this poem appeared in "A River Runs Through It" as well

1:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I just wrote about First and Second Fig on my blog When I taught, I always had students compare the two. Also, two good biographies on Millay have been published within the last couple of years.

5:30 PM  
Blogger szlogolept said...

This is what I initailly wrote
when I posted this poem on my

I have yet to see a more emotive and touching use of the two interjections of ah and oh in a poetic context.

In a dictionary there is not much difference in their meanings but the manner in which they have been used here they come over with completely different nuances. These are perhaps the limits beyond which Epicureanism cannot be taken and where pain and pleasure become so intertwined that they lose their separateness.

I am living a more than full life that will cut short the natural span of my being but ah my enemies you have no reason to delight in it and oh my friends do not be sorry for me. Look at the lovely light that I am shedding around me for it is a source of envy for my foes and an occasion to delight for my well-wishers.

Then I added this:

Although in the comment above I have interpreted 'But ah, my foes' in realtion to envy but obviously my subconscious self was less than happy with it and in a half awake state in my bed I kept on thinking about it and the more I thought I felt that the 'source of envy' was not an appropriate and adequate expression to describe it for it negates the inherent joy and compassion which envelopes these verses. Perhaps a better commentary would be:

Ah my detractors, true that I have lived an unorganised and unruly life which has earned me your disapprobation and reproof but you look at the lovely light I have radiated all around me.

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