Week 96: Hearing your words, and not a word among them, by Edna St Vincent Millay

The work of the American poet Edna St Vincent Millay (1892-1950) is on the whole a bit too unabashedly romantic for my taste, but I do much admire this sonnet, which combines her usual sensuousness with a solidity not always present in her work. I would like to know more about the context of the poem – it’s clear that she is pretty cross with someone but whom, when and why I have never been able to establish – anyone know? Not that the whom, when and why really matter.

Hearing your Words

Hearing your words and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running through the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered, and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

Edna St Vincent Millay

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