A poem begins with a lump in your throat ~~ Robert Frost

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY

EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY, pacifist in World War I, became concerned when America had not joined the war against the Germans by 1940. She wrote There are No Islands Anymore about American isolation which was first published in the New York Times. All profits from the poem went to war efforts. Seems relevant today.

 

THERE ARE NO ISLANDS ANYMORE : Lines written in passion and in deep concern for England, France and my own country. Edna St. Vincent Millay.

 
Dear Isolationist, you are
So very, very insular!
Surely you do not take offense?-
The word’s well used in such a sense.
‘Tis you, not I, sir, who insist
You are an Isolationist.

 

And oh, how sweet a thing to be
Safe on an island, not at sea!
(Though some one said, some months ago-
I heard him, and he seemed to know;
Was it the German Chancellor?
“There are no islands anymore.”)

 

Dear Islander, I envy you:
I’m very fond of islands, too;
And few the pleasures I have known
Which equaled being left alone.
Yet matters from without intrude
At times upon my solitude:
A forest fire, a dog run mad,
A neighbor stripped of all he had
By swindlers, or the shrieking plea
For help, of stabbed Democracy.

 

Startled, I rise, run from the room,
Join the brigade of spade and broom;
Help to surround the sickened beast;
Hear the account of farmers fleeced
By dapper men, condole, and give
Something to help them hope and live;
Or, if democracy’s at stake,
Give more, give more than I can make;
And notice, with a rueful grin,
What was without is now within.

 

(The tidal wave devours the shore:
There are no islands any more.)

 

With sobbing breath, with blistered hands,
Men fight the forest fire in bands;
With kitchen broom, with branch of pine,
Beat at the blackened, treacherous line;
Before the veering wind fall back,
With eyebrows burnt and faces black;
While breasts in blackened streams perspire.
Watch how the wind runs with the fire
Like a broad banner up the hill-
And can no more… yet more must still.

 

New life!-To hear across the field
Voices of neighbours, forms concealed
By smoke, but loud the nearing shout:
“Hold on! We’re coming! Here it’s out!”

 

(The tidal wave devours the shore:
There are no islands any more.)

 

This little life from here to there-
Who lives it safely anywhere?
Not you, my insulated friend:
What calm composure will defend
Your rock, when tides you’ve never seen
Assault the sands of What-has-been,
And from your island’s tallest tree,
You watch advance What-is-to-be?

 

(The tidal wave devours the shore:
There are no islands any more.)

 

Sweet, sweet, to see the tide approach,
Assured that it cannot encroach
Upon the beach-peas, often wet
With spray, never uprooted yet.
The moon said-did she not speak true?-
“The waves will not awaken you.
At my command the waves retire.
Sleep, weary mind; dream, heart’s desire.”

 

And yet, there was a Danish king
So sure he governed everything
He bade the ocean not to rise.
It did. And great was his surprise.

 

No man, no nation, is made free
By stating it intends to be.
Jostled and elbowed is the clown
Who thinks to walk alone in town.

 

We live upon a shrinking sphere-
Like it or not, our home is here;
Brave heart, uncomprehending brain
Could make it seem like home again.

 

There are no islands any more.
The tide that mounts our drowsy shore
Is boats and men-there is no place
For waves in such a crowded space.

 

Oh, let us give, before too late,
To those who hold our country’s fate
Along with theirs-be sure of this-
In grimy hands-that will not miss
The target, if we stand beside
Loading the guns-resentment, pride,
Debts torn across with insolent word-
All this forgotten, or deferred
At least until there’s time for strife
Concerning things less dear than Life;
Than let, if must be, in the brain
Resentment rankle once again,
Quibbling and Squabbling take the floor,
Cool Judgment go to sleep once more.

 

On English soil, on French terrain,
Democracy’s at grips again
With forces forged to stamp it out
This time no quarter!-since no doubt.

 

Not France, not England’s what’s involved,
Not we, –there’s something to be solved
Of grave concern to free men all:
Can Freedom stand? -Must Freedom fall?

 

(Meantime, the tide devours the shore:
There are no islands any more.)

 

Oh, build, assemble, transport, give,
That England, France and we may live,
Before tonight, before too late,
To those who build our country’s fate
In desperate fingers, reaching out
For weapons we confer about,
All that we can, and more, and now!
Oh, God, let not the lovely brow
Of Freedom in the trampled mud
Grow cold! Have we no brains, no blood,
No enterprise-no any thing
Of which we proudly talk and sing,
Which we like men can bring to bear
For Freedom, and against Despair?

 

Lest French and British fighters, deep
In battle, needing guns and sleep,
For lack of aid be overthrown
And we be left to fight alone.

 

 

 

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