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- A few Figs from Thistles - 1/3 -

A Few Figs from Thistles

Poems and Sonnets


Edna St. Vincent Millay

Thanks are due to the editors of Ainslie's, The Dial, Pearson's Poetry, Reedy's Mirror, and Vanity Fair, for their kind permission to republish various of these poems.

This edition of "A Few Figs from Thistles" contains several poems not included in earlier editions.

First Fig

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!

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!


We were very tired, we were very merry-- We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. It was bare and bright, and smelled like a stable-- But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.

We were very tired, we were very merry-- We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.

We were very tired, we were very merry, We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. We hailed, "Good morrow, mother!" to a shawl-covered head, And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; And she wept, "God bless you!" for the apples and pears, And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.


And if I loved you Wednesday, Well, what is that to you? I do not love you Thursday-- So much is true.

And why you come complaining Is more than I can see. I loved you Wednesday,--yes--but what Is that to me?

To the Not Impossible Him

How shall I know, unless I go To Cairo and Cathay, Whether or not this blessed spot Is blest in every way?

Now it may be, the flower for me Is this beneath my nose; How shall I tell, unless I smell The Carthaginian rose?

The fabric of my faithful love No power shall dim or ravel Whilst I stay here,--but oh, my dear, If I should ever travel!

Macdougal Street

As I went walking up and down to take the evening air, (Sweet to meet upon the street, why must I be so shy?) I saw him lay his hand upon her torn black hair; ("Little dirty Latin child, let the lady by!")

The women squatting on the stoops were slovenly and fat, (Lay me out in organdie, lay me out in lawn!) And everywhere I stepped there was a baby or a cat; (Lord God in Heaven, will it never be dawn?)

The fruit-carts and clam-carts were ribald as a fair, (Pink nets and wet shells trodden under heel) She had haggled from the fruit-man of his rotting ware; (I shall never get to sleep, the way I feel!)

He walked like a king through the filth and the clutter, (Sweet to meet upon the street, why did you glance me by?) But he caught the quaint Italian quip she flung him from the gutter; (What can there be to cry about that I should lie and cry?)

He laid his darling hand upon her little black head, (I wish I were a ragged child with ear-rings in my ears!) And he said she was a baggage to have said what she had said; (Truly I shall be ill unless I stop these tears!)

The Singing-Woman from the Wood's Edge

What should I be but a prophet and a liar, Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar? Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water, What should I be but the fiend's god-daughter?

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog, That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog? And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar, But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe, As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby, You will find such flame at the wave's weedy ebb As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother's web,

But there comes to birth no common spawn From the love of a priest for a leprechaun, And you never have seen and you never will see Such things as the things that swaddled me!

After all's said and after all's done, What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

In through the bushes, on any foggy day, My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away, With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth, A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

And there'd sit my Ma, with her knees beneath her chin, A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in, And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin, He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin, He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil, And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

Oh, the things I haven't seen and the things I haven't known. What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown, And yanked both ways by my mother and my father, With a "Which would you better?" and a "Which would you rather?"

With him for a sire and her for a dam, What should I be but just what I am?

She Is Overheard Singing

Oh, Prue she has a patient man, And Joan a gentle lover, And Agatha's Arth' is a hug-the-hearth,-- But my true love's a rover!

Mig, her man's as good as cheese And honest as a briar, Sue tells her love what he's thinking of,-- But my dear lad's a liar!

Oh, Sue and Prue and Agatha Are thick with Mig and Joan! They bite their threads and shake their heads And gnaw my name like a bone;

And Prue says, "Mine's a patient man, As never snaps me up," And Agatha, "Arth' is a hug-the-hearth, Could live content in a cup;"

Sue's man's mind is like good jell-- All one colour, and clear -- And Mig's no call to think at all What's to come next year,

While Joan makes boast of a gentle lad, That's troubled with that and this;-- But they all would give the life they live For a look from the man I kiss!

Cold he slants his eyes about, And few enough's his choice,-- Though he'd slip me clean for a nun, or a queen, Or a beggar with knots in her voice,--

A few Figs from Thistles - 1/3

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