Today call me Millay-ed. As in Edna St. Vincent Millay. The Pulitzer Prize-winning, bisexual, feminist poet of the 20th century.
Wait. What’s that I hear? The sound of readers logging off? Please don’t. Instead, bear with me if you’re not already a fan of Edna (or as she preferred to be called in her youth, Vincent), while I present her poem:
The syntax is inverted, the diction perhaps a challenge. But, oh. The meaning is, to me, breathtaking.
“I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having
In these affections; never through shyness in the houses of the
rich or in the presence of clergymen having denied these
Never when worked upon by cynics like chiropractors having
grunted or clicked a vertebra to the discredit of those loves;
Never when anxious to land a job having diminished them by a
conniving smile; or when befuddled by drink
Jeered at them through heartache or lazily fondled the fingers of
their alert enemies; declare
That I shall love you always.
No matter what party is in power;
No matter what temporarily expedient combination of allied
interests wins the war;
Shall love you always.”
See? It’s one bad-ass poem. And although written in the previous century, these words have never been more “Modern” or necessary. Ms. Millay is, in short, declaring a few chosen loyalties to be so strong that she would never, under any influence, deride their recipients; that no amount of pressure or insecurity or fear of retribution would cause her to betray those whom she most loves.
How many of us can say that?
I wish I could. But while I may not habitually criticize the people and principals I hold dear, I have remained silent while others did so. And occasionally, to my shame, I’ve participated in the criticism myself.
Have I been too shy to defend my beliefs in the houses of the rich? Yes. And although I’m not generally in the presence of clergymen, I’ve been worked upon by cynics, and clicked my share of vertebrae to please a chiropractic crowd.
If I were forced to flash a conniving smile to win a book contract, I’d be tempted. And I’ve been befuddled enough by drink to abandon my ideals. On a few too many occasions.
I’ve sat quietly amongst those whose political views did not match mine, choosing not to share my opinion, no matter how precious, to avoid awkwardness. I have gossiped about friends because it was easier than finding more worthwhile conversation for common ground.
But starting today? I’d like to do better. To be stronger. To get Millay-ed.
I don’t want to be the creep on Jersey Shore or the hypocrite on the Real Housewives of Anywhere who looks into the camera and blurts opinions (founded or not) about the people in her life. I know. These “ladies” are on television. They’re being compensated with money, fame and book contracts for being controversial.
But there’s nothing productive in their controversies. They’re not standing up for principals or defending allegiances. They’re critiquing breast augmentations and spouting vitriol over tequila shots. And, let’s not forget, writing novels or memoirs that seek to glorify their lifestyle.
I understand the “stars” of these shows have signed up for the hazing. And that those of us who watch are seeking refuge from stressful lives. We’re laughing at not with the foolishness.
But do we set worthwhile examples for our children during the rest of our day? Do they hear us on the phone talking behind a friend’s back? Are they in the presence of a group of women when the one who’s absent becomes the subject of unflattering discussions?
I, for one, am seeking change. I want to look my loved-ones in the eye and say with confidence that “I shall love you always.” I want them to feel the truth in my declaration, to trust that I will not waver in my affections. I want you, my friends, to know that if anyone’s going to lazily fondle my fingers, it will be you. Not your enemies.
And so I have declared it. In a most unmodern way.
In the hopes that you might read this and believe.
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