Thou art not lovelier than lilacs, —no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
Than small white single poppies, —I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go,
I turn my troubled eyes, nor here nor there
Find any refuge from thee, yet I swear
So has it been with mist, —with moonlight so.
Like him who day by day unto his draught
Of delicate poison adds him one drop more
Till he may drink unharmed the death of ten,
Even so, inured to beauty, who have quaffed
Each hour more deeply than the hour before,
I drink-and live-what has destroyed some men.
I am 54 years old and have loved Millay’s poetry since my earyly 20’s. If one has ever had a crazy lover and wished there was a form of “love insurance”, here it is in this sonnet.
Sometimes a poem can come out of its ghostly cracks and frighten one with such force and intimacy that one might think it were written not by any poet for the mere sake of poetry, but by some secreted self destined to strip the soul bare–my heart has just stopped for a moment on this one. I feel every ounce of this, I drink the poison mentioned, I am there fully in the contracted spasm of muscle. It is impeccable. A sonnet to rival any Shakespeare could ever have written. Take it out of love and put it in any context and you will see your dream of a stalwart life.