This year to celebrate National Poetry Month and to take part in the April A-Z Blogging Challenge, I’ll be posting two poems a day, one written by me and another poem written by one of my favourite poets. The title or first word of both poems will begin with the corresponding letter in the Blogging Challenge.
Today I offer you two poems on grieving, Lament by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Lament by Luccia Gray.
Lament, by Edna St. Vincent Millay 1892 – 1950
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.
Lament was originally published in St. Vincent Millay’s book Second April, in 1921.
A lament is an expression of grief. Some scholars have said that there is no grief in this poem. I disagree. It is true that it is not a typical mourning poem, but the mourning is evident. They accuse the widow of being a cold person who does not cry for her husband’s death. They are judgemental and have totally missed the meaning of the poem. People deal with grief, or rather need to deal with grief, in different ways.
I believe this woman is a devastated person who has lost her husband, but she still has two children to think of. The poem was published in 1921, the widow would not have a government pension, and they are obviously poor, so she’s trying to be practical and positive, and reassure her children and herself that they’ll be able to cope.
She doesn’t break down and cry, because if she does, what will happen to her children? She can’t mope around and write sentimental sonnets, because she has two mouths to feed and look after. Dan is ill, and Anne needs to eat, important practical matters. I think she’s a brave and resourceful woman who is trying her best to survive alone in a cruel and hostile world.
She speaks kindly of her husband, he was a good man, but she must forget him and think of her children, if they are to survive. The last line is devastating, she’s forgotten why life must go on, life has lost its meaning for her, and yet she needs to survive. It’s heart wrenching because her situation doesn’t even allow her to break down and cry because she is too overwhelmed by practical considerations.
Anyone who reads this poem and accuses her of being heartless, really needs to read it again with some more empathy.
EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY, who was famous for coining the phrase, ‘my candle burns at both ends.’ was an American poet who received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923. She was one of the most respected American poets of the 20th century and was known for her poetry readings and feminist views.
Edna St. Vincent Millay in Mamaroneck, NY, 1914, by Arnold Genthe (Public Domain).
My poem, also called Lament, is the widow’s reply to those who accuse her of being heartless.
Lament (After EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY) by Luccia Gray.
They said I was heartless
For sewing jackets from the coats he’d used,
And stitching trousers from the pants he’d worn.
They said I was pitiless
For making toys for Anne with his keys,
And filling Dan’s bank with his pennies.
They said I was merciless,
To dare to forget I was alone,
And would probably lose my home.
They said I was ruthless,
A widow who refused to weep,
A severe punishment should reap.
They didn’t mind
That a good man had died,
That my daughter was starving,
Or that my son was ailing.
They just wanted to see me crying.
I should have told them
I had cried so much
When nobody watched
That my eyes were cracked
And my heart was parched.
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