Friday, August 12, 2011

A close study

The Epicurean posted this the a while ago and I have spentsome time pondering the meaning, and thought that I would take a moment to do a little discussion on the poem from both artistic and ethical merits

I am not resigned to the shutting away of loving hearts in the hard ground.
So it is, and so it will be, for so it has been, time out of mind:
Into the darkness they go, the wise and the lovely. Crowned
With lilies and with laurel they go; but I am not resigned.

Lovers and thinkers, into the earth with you.
Be one with the dull, the indiscriminate dust.
A fragment of what you felt, of what you knew,
A formula, a phrase remains,—but the best is lost.

The answers quick and keen, the honest look, the laughter, the love,—
They are gone. They are gone to feed the roses. Elegant and curled
Is the blossom. Fragrant is the blossom. I know. But I do not approve.
More precious was the light in your eyes than all the roses in the world.

Down, down, down into the darkness of the grave
Gently they go, the beautiful, the tender, the kind;
Quietly they go, the intelligent, the witty, the brave.
I know. But I do not approve. And I am not resigned.

— Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Dirge Without Music"

This is one of the most beautifully crafted poems I have ever read.  Old lady Edna had some serious chops, and she used nearly all of them here.  But in the end, the damn thing is just a haunting anthem to ones own egocentricism.

"I am not resigned".  What an odd concept, what a display of selfishness.  That  single egos ability to perceive is all important, that an individual has meaning outside of the society and planet on which they swim.

But then I went over to Jesse's and read.   I was astounded by the strain that happens betweeen these two when you stand back from them.  TED's is a simple exposition, allowing you to gleam potential meaning from a well crafted title.  One can probably make an infinite number of incorrect assumptions about the background and intent of this post.  I hope that TED never makes this clear, it would ruin the present that he gave us with posting this.

Jesse on the other hand is more forthright, a clarion call of "j'accuse" with no punches pulled.  A obituary of monumental proportions casting evil with human faces and greed as the sole earthy sin of any consequence.  Those who are attempting to set themselves as Emperor and Senate as the source of all evil, taking the earnings from those who feel that the spoils are theirs.

What these two have in common is the idea of death.  One sees it as a means of placing tyrants.  The other sees it as an injustice  to be raged against.

I very much applaud these two for bringing, at least to my mind, the ability to think about the problems that face us as a country and a world.  These problems are intimately wound with our stunted and solipsistic ethical worldview.   The idea of the ethical supremacy of the individual and the injustice of mortality goes hand in hand with our idea of death as a punishment and a leveler.

Death is none of these things.


Anonymous said...

Thought provoking post. It's a lot more tempting to examine the craftmanship went into the Edna work, what she must have intended to convey by rhetorical expertise, than the deeper implications of hers and the other you suggested.

She provided a nice piece of craftsmanship and a piece of seduction-by-language untroubled by all manner of issues. The successful seduction provides the reader with a galaxy of directions to pry into in a search for evil, which is gratifying and helpful as a means of avoiding looking in the dark parts of ourselves where we know it's hiding and easily found.

Enjoyable post. Thanks for sharing it.

russell1200 said...

Death brings life to an end. Life is of limited duration.

But saying that life is of limited duration is a long way from saying that it brings balance or leveling.

I suppose shortening a life could be viewed as a form of punishment. But a lot there would depend on which of a the very many views of an afterlife one has.

To say that death, in of itself, is an injustice asserts a set of "rights" of the living that are arguable at best. How exactly does the mere act of creation imply that the creation is intended or should be permanent.