I will put Chaos into fourteen lines

I was down at the pub last weekend listening to The Large No.12s and talking crap as usual and the conversation went down the nostalgia path as it is wont to do when you put old friends and alcohol together in close proximity. Anyway someone commented how we were still doing alright after having not so much burnt the candle at both ends but blow torched it in the middle in our childhood (mine would appear to still be going, childhood that is, I think I replaced the candle with an LCD screen)…

This brought to mind Edna St. Vincent Millay.


Edna Millay wrote “First Fig” in 1920:

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends–
It gives a lovely light!

Does that sort of sound familiar, if not as a poem then as a mantra? It was a lot of peoples creed back then ( then being as recent as just last week).

The other Millay piece which stayed with me (which I discovered much later after chasing down some stuff by Lew Welch) was
I will put Chaos into fourteen lines – Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)

I will put Chaos into fourteen lines
And keep him there; and let him thence escape
If he be lucky; let him twist, and ape
Flood, fire, and demon — his adroit designs
Will strain to nothing in the strict confines
Of this sweet order, where, in pious rape,
I hold his essence and amorphous shape,
Till he with Order mingles and combines.
Past are the hours, the years of our duress,
His arrogance, our awful servitude:
I have him. He is nothing more nor less
Than something simple not yet understood;
I shall not even force him to confess;
Or answer. I will only make him good.

This is so cool because mandelbrots, chaos, that bloody bad weather butterfly and James Gleick were all still to come when she wrote this. I think this is what makes poetry so interesting. I dont really know what she meant or was writing about but when I saw this after reading James Gleick’s book “Chaos: The Making of a New Science” (which is a really great read) it was one of those really synchronous moments.

Any way back to the Who? question.

Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of those American activists who fought for womens rights and for justice in general. I wonder what she would make of the struggle these days? She was hailed as the voice of her generation; ( her, Jack Kerouac, Bob Dylan, Bruce Springsteen) and for two years in Europe she did a gig for Vanity Fair, she became the first woman to receive a Pulitzer Prize for poetry, for Ballad of the Harp Weaver.

At the height of her popularity she joined a writer’s crusade to stay the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti in 1927; she commemorated their end in five poems, “Justice Denied in Massachusetts”, “Hangman’s Oak”, “The Anguish”, “To Those Without Pity”, and “Wine from These Grapes” (collected in “The Buck in the Snow” in 1928). She was also one of the myriad people who tried to raise America’s awareness of the rise and dangers of Fascism in Europe.

There are some more of her works at http://cscs.umich.edu/~crshalizi/Poetry/Millay/ and if you interested in more about Edna St. Vincent Millay click on the link.

Strange where a trip to the pub will take you.


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