Wednesday, May 12, 2010

This should be simple; if one's power were great

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

This should be simple; if one's power were great,
If one were God, for instance, — and the world
Not yet created; Lucifer not hurled
Yet out of Heaven, to plot and instigate
Most thoughtful mischief: simple, in a state
Of non-existence, to manipulate
And mould unwieldy, heavy, obstinate
But thoughtless matter, into some bright world: —
Make something out of nothing, and create
As many planets, and as various men
And other mortal creatures as might seem
Consistent with the structure and the theme
Of one's proposed achievement; not from dream,
No, not from aspiration, not from hope,
But out of art and wisdom, and those powers
Such as must qualify a god, create
A world at least as beautiful and brave
And terrified and sorrowful as ours.

For nothingness is plastic, has no trend;
Is stubborn but in this: it is inert;
Wills not to render justice, nor do hurt;
And should be, in strong hands, easy to bend.

But evil upon evil laminate
Through layers uncountable as leaves in coal —
To strip that into strata — perpetrate
Such outrage upon evil; and create
Good out of wickedness at this late date —
There, there's a trick to tame the gamiest soul

Sweet earth, you might from birth — oh beaming sight: —
With gentle glow have lighted all the night;
And Man, a star upon a planet, see,
Radiant beyond the furthest nebulae.

But earth, though grown to green and lush estate,
Her blossom, Man, has never yet unfurled:
Observe how bawdy, botched and profligate,
Except in greed, proceeds this pretty world.

We move in darkness solemn and extreme;
We falter forward, hesitate, decide
To turn about, pause, fumble, plunge, collide, —
Beg pardon, and then bob and bob about
From left to right,
Bump foreheads, then burst out
In nervous, merry laughter, and plunge forth
Into the forest suddenly, you running east by north,
Gasping and stumbling over stumps, and I
East by south,
Slashing through bogs, tripped by submerged logs and
with muddy water in my mouth,
Till every sound subsides
And all is lost in darkness and in fog,
And neither of us has thought to say goodnight.

Such blindness does not intercept the sight
Of the efficient: they have learned by heart
By daylight, from a most meticulous chart
Just where to go; they know ...
And can as well through darkness as by day
Find their direct, discreet, expedient way:
Know where to go to muster, or to hide;
They move among us all throughout the night;
They pass close by your side;
You do not hear their step, they step so light.

... why cannot we as well as they
Scout, reconnoiter, photograph, survey,
Make maps and study them, and learn our way? —
Or must we lie and sleep, "because 'tis night"?
Then it is true, that in this world today
Lucifer, alone, can bring men light.

Must double-dealing, like a snake's forked tongue,
Flick red at us from under every stone?
Must Honour be self-conscious, being alone? —
And Aspiration, an infected lung?

Must Justice always dawdle, don its wig,
And wipe its spectacles before it speaks?
And Government keep flapping to and fro
Like a loose shutter on a hinge that squeaks? —
Kindness of heart be such a whirligig?
Courtesy mince and bow with pointed toe?
Piety smirk? — and Scholarship repose
In camphor, saving on Commencement Day?

Evil alone has oil for every wheel;
Rolls without friction and arrives on time;
Looks forward and sees far; does not reveal
Itself in conversation; is sublime
In logic; is not wasteful; does not feel
Compunction; buries the dead past in lime.

I think, perhaps, the gods, who may not die,
May not achieve unconsciousness, forget
Even their errors or their sins, are set
On making daily pieties comply
With nightly assignations — and are shy
Of mortal things, like laughter, say, or tears, —
Things which they might regret an eon of years —
Fervour, devotion, fright, audacity.

But we are singled out, — oh, we have doom
To comfort us, — sweet peril, imminent death —
So we have leisure, we have time, have room
For wide despair and all its leagues beneath,
Lethal delights the gods dare not assume,
And, not possessing them, cannot bequeath.
And, out of haughty, smooth, serene despair,
We might envisage, and we might fulfill
Appointments and arrangements, which the fair
Soft gods have never made, and never will.

From so much energy, so little hope,
So vast a consolation in the end,
We could erect a thing of poise and scope,
Which future generations might defend,
And put to their own use; and what we grope
To get a glimpse of, they might comprehend.

To build a house would be, it seems to me,
An easy task, if you had solid, good,
Simple material, clean of history:
Honest, unbiased brick, cement, and wood —

If you had sense, authority, and time,
And need not quibble, shift, cajole, subdue,
Break down partitions, breathe old hair and lime,
And tease the out-of-plumb into the true —
If you need not, for instance, for one thing,
Lure ancient chimneys to be lined with tile,
Oh, what a joy! Oh, hear the hammers ring!
A house! — and building houses is worth while.

We, we, the living, we, the still-alive, —
Why, what a triumph, what a task is here!
But how to go about it? — how connive
To outwit Evil in his proper sphere
And element? — Evil, conservative,
Established, disciplined, adroit, severe.
And yet, in some way, yet, we may contrive
To build our world; if not this year, next year.

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