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Ode To Silence Analysis

Author: poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay Type: poem Views: 5

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Aye, but she?

Your other sister and my other soul

Grave Silence, lovelier

Than the three loveliest maidens, what of her?

Clio, not you,

Not you, Calliope,

Nor all your wanton line,

Not Beauty's perfect self shall comfort me

For Silence once departed,

For her the cool-tongued, her the tranquil-hearted,

Whom evermore I follow wistfully,

Wandering Heaven and Earth and Hell and the four seasons through;

Thalia, not you,

Not you, Melpomene,

Not your incomparable feet, O thin Terpsichore, I seek in this great hall,

But one more pale, more pensive, most beloved of you all.

I seek her from afar,

I come from temples where her altars are,

From groves that bear her name,

Noisy with stricken victims now and sacrificial flame,

And cymbals struck on high and strident faces

Obstreperous in her praise

They neither love nor know,

A goddess of gone days,

Departed long ago,

Abandoning the invaded shrines and fanes

Of her old sanctuary,

A deity obscure and legendary,

Of whom there now remains,

For sages to decipher and priests to garble,

Only and for a little while her letters wedged in marble,

Which even now, behold, the friendly mumbling rain erases,

And the inarticulate snow,

Leaving at last of her least signs and traces

None whatsoever, nor whither she is vanished from these places.

"She will love well," I said,

"If love be of that heart inhabiter,

The flowers of the dead;

The red anemone that with no sound

Moves in the wind, and from another wound

That sprang, the heavily-sweet blue hyacinth,

That blossoms underground,

And sallow poppies, will be dear to her.

And will not Silence know

In the black shade of what obsidian steep

Stiffens the white narcissus numb with sleep?

(Seed which Demeter's daughter bore from home,

Uptorn by desperate fingers long ago,

Reluctant even as she,

Undone Persephone,

And even as she set out again to grow

In twilight, in perdition's lean and inauspicious loam).

She will love well," I said,

"The flowers of the dead;

Where dark Persephone the winter round,

Uncomforted for home, uncomforted,

Lacking a sunny southern slope in northern Sicily,

With sullen pupils focussed on a dream,

Stares on the stagnant stream

That moats the unequivocable battlements of Hell,

There, there will she be found,

She that is Beauty veiled from men and Music in a swound."

"I long for Silence as they long for breath

Whose helpless nostrils drink the bitter sea;

What thing can be

So stout, what so redoubtable, in Death

What fury, what considerable rage, if only she,

Upon whose icy breast,

Unquestioned, uncaressed,

One time I lay,

And whom always I lack,

Even to this day,

Being by no means from that frigid bosom weaned away,

If only she therewith be given me back?"

I sought her down that dolorous labyrinth,

Wherein no shaft of sunlight ever fell,

And in among the bloodless everywhere

I sought her, but the air,

Breathed many times and spent,

Was fretful with a whispering discontent,

And questioning me, importuning me to tell

Some slightest tidings of the light of day they know no more,

Plucking my sleeve, the eager shades were with me where I went.

I paused at every grievous door,

And harked a moment, holding up my hand,—and for a space

A hush was on them, while they watched my face;

And then they fell a-whispering as before;

So that I smiled at them and left them, seeing she was not there.

I sought her, too,

Among the upper gods, although I knew

She was not like to be where feasting is,

Nor near to Heaven's lord,

Being a thing abhorred

And shunned of him, although a child of his,

(Not yours, not yours; to you she owes not breath,

Mother of Song, being sown of Zeus upon a dream of Death).

Fearing to pass unvisited some place

And later learn, too late, how all the while,

With her still face,

She had been standing there and seen me pass, without a smile,

I sought her even to the sagging board whereat

The stout immortals sat;

But such a laughter shook the mighty hall

No one could hear me say:

Had she been seen upon the Hill that day?

And no one knew at all

How long I stood, or when at last I sighed and went away.

There is a garden lying in a lull

Between the mountains and the mountainous sea,

I know not where, but which a dream diurnal

Paints on my lids a moment till the hull

Be lifted from the kernel

And Slumber fed to me.

Your foot-print is not there, Mnemosene,

Though it would seem a ruined place and after

Your lichenous heart, being full

Of broken columns, caryatides

Thrown to the earth and fallen forward on their jointless knees,

And urns funereal altered into dust

Minuter than the ashes of the dead,

And Psyche's lamp out of the earth up-thrust,

Dripping itself in marble wax on what was once the bed

Of Love, and his young body asleep, but now is dust instead.

There twists the bitter-sweet, the white wisteria Fastens its fingers in the strangling wall,

And the wide crannies quicken with bright weeds;

There dumbly like a worm all day the still white orchid feeds;

But never an echo of your daughters' laughter

Is there, nor any sign of you at all

Swells fungous from the rotten bough, grey mother of Pieria!

Only her shadow once upon a stone

I saw,—and, lo, the shadow and the garden, too, were gone.

I tell you you have done her body an ill,

You chatterers, you noisy crew!

She is not anywhere!

I sought her in deep Hell;

And through the world as well;

I thought of Heaven and I sought her there;

Above nor under ground

Is Silence to be found,

That was the very warp and woof of you,

Lovely before your songs began and after they were through!

Oh, say if on this hill

Somewhere your sister's body lies in death,

So I may follow there, and make a wreath

Of my locked hands, that on her quiet breast

Shall lie till age has withered them!

                                 (Ah, sweetly from the rest

I see

Turn and consider me

Compassionate Euterpe!)

"There is a gate beyond the gate of Death,

Beyond the gate of everlasting Life,

Beyond the gates of Heaven and Hell," she saith,

"Whereon but to believe is horror!

Whereon to meditate engendereth

Even in deathless spirits such as I

A tumult in the breath,

A chilling of the inexhaustible blood

Even in my veins that never will be dry,

And in the austere, divine monotony

That is my being, the madness of an unaccustomed mood.

This is her province whom you lack and seek;

And seek her not elsewhere.

Hell is a thoroughfare

For pilgrims,—Herakles,

And he that loved Euridice too well,

Have walked therein; and many more than these;

And witnessed the desire and the despair

Of souls that passed reluctantly and sicken for the air;

You, too, have entered Hell,

And issued thence; but thence whereof I speak

None has returned;—for thither fury brings

Only the driven ghosts of them that flee before all things.

Oblivion is the name of this abode: and she is there."

Oh, radiant Song! Oh, gracious Memory!

Be long upon this height

I shall not climb again!

I know the way you mean,—the little night,

And the long empty day,—never to see

Again the angry light,

Or hear the hungry noises cry my brain!

Ah, but she,

Your other sister and my other soul,

She shall again be mine;

And I shall drink her from a silver bowl,

A chilly thin green wine,

Not bitter to the taste,

Not sweet,

Not of your press, oh, restless, clamorous nine,—

To foam beneath the frantic hoofs of mirth—

But savoring faintly of the acid earth,

And trod by pensive feet

From perfect clusters ripened without haste

Out of the urgent heat

In some clear glimmering vaulted twilight under the odorous vine

. Lift up your lyres! Sing on!

But as for me, I seek your sister whither she is gone.


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