Saturday, May 24, 2008

"Apostrophe to Man"

Yesterday’s post made me remember this poem by Millay. It’s older than most of the things that I like to post, but I think it’s worth the exception.

"Apostrophe to Man"
(on reflecting that the world is ready to go to war again)
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Detestable race, continue to expunge yourself, die out.
Breed faster, crowd, encroach, sing hymns, build bombing planes;
Make speeches, unveil statues, issue bonds, parade;
Convert again into explosives the bewildered ammonia and distracted cellulose;
Convert again into putrescent matter drawing flies
The hopeful bodies of the young, exhort,
Pray, pull long faces, be earnest, be all but overcome, be photographed;
Confer, perfect your formulae, commercialize
Bacteria harmful to human tissue,
Put death on the market;
Breed, crowd, encroach, expand, expunge yourself, die out,
Homo called sapiens.

I read this and I feel like Mel Gibson at the end of Braveheart. I want to go out and fight! I want to yell at the world and argue about stupid people doing stupid things. I want to make people stop being selfish and ignorant and frivolous. That last line is as wonderful a judgment to the human race as I’ve ever seen.

This poem compares to “In The Mourning Time” very well. I can see the two of them making up the body of a college undergrad’s paper on the poetry of human criticism. “Detestable race,” this poem starts, “continue to expunge yourself, die out.” Ouch. Compare that to the final two lines of Hayden’s poem (“but man / permitted to be man”). Millay wants us to die out; Hayden wants us to utterly change ourselves. I wonder who would win in a fistfight.

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