June 14, 1940


'There Are No Islands, Any More'


"Lines Written in Passion and in Deep Concern for England, France and My Own Country"

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.

The New York Times is indebted to Edna St. Vincent Millay, distinguished poetess, for the poem printed above, which she has submitted to several newspapers



What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why

 (Sonnet XLIII)

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,

I have forgotten, and what arms have lain

Under my head till morning; but the rain

Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh

Upon the glass and listen for reply,

And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain

For unremembered lads that not again

Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,

Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,

Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:

I cannot say what loves have come and gone,

I only know that summer sang in me

A little while, that in me sings no more.







Say that we saw Spain die. O splendid bull, how well you fought!

Lost from the first.

                            The tossed, the replaced, the

                  watchful torero with gesture elegant and spry,

Before the dark, the tiring but the unglazed eye deploying the bright cape,

Which hid for once not air, but the enemy indeed, the authentic shape,

A thousand of him, interminably into the ring released…

                 the turning beast at length between converging colors caught.


Save for the weapons of its skull, a bull

Unarmed, considering, weighing, charging

Almost a world, itself without ally.


Say that we saw the shoulders more than the mind confused, so profusely

Bleeding from so many more than the accustomed barbs, the game gone

            vulgar, the rules abused.


Say that we saw Spain die from loss of blood, a rustic reason, in a reinforced

And proud punctilious land, no espada

A hundred men unhorsed,

A hundred horses gored, and the afternoon aging, and the crowd growing

           restless (all, all so much later than planned),

And the big head heavy, sliding forward in the sand, and the tongue dry with

           sand, - no espada

Toward that hot neck, for the delicate and final thrust, having dared trust

           forth his hand.







Digam que vimos morrer Espanha. Oh, toiro magnífico, como lutaste!

      o torero derrubado, recuperado, vigilante, de gesto elegante e ágil,

De olhar cansado, mas não vítreo, desdobrando antes da noite a capa intensa e viva

Que ocultava já não ar, mas o inimigo realmente, a forma autêntica,

Milhares sem fim largados na arena… virando-se o animal finalmente apanhado entre cores  [convergentes

Salvo as armas do crânio, um toiro

Desarmado, ponderando, pesando, investindo

Contra quase um mundo, e sem aliados.


Digam que vimos confusos mais os ombros do que a mente, sangrando

Em profusão de muito mais que as farpas do costume, o jogo degradado, as regras violadas.


Digam que vimos morrer Espanha a perder sangue, rústica razão, numa terra reforçada,

Meticulosa e altiva, e nenhum espada

Cem homens desmontados,


Cem cavalos escornados, e a tarde a envelhecer, e a multidão cada vez mais agitada (tudo,

[tudo mais tarde que o previsto),

E a grande cabeça lenta, arrastando-se na areia, e a língua seca da areia – e nenhum espada

Ousou espetar a mão para essa nuca em fogo, para o golpe final e delicado.


Tradução de João Ferreira Duarte, em "LEITURAS

poemas do inglês", Relógio de Água, 1993.

ISBN 972-708-204-1





Poem and Prayer

They must not go alone
into that burning building!- which today
is all of Europe!
that you go with them, spirit and heart and mind!
Although the body, grown
too old to fight a young man's war; or wounded
too deeply under the healed and whitened scars
of earlier battles, must remain behind.

You, too, may not be with them, save in spirit, you
so greatly needed here, here in the very van
and front of Duty,
to fashion tools and engines, and to engineer
their transport; build the ships and mine the coal
without which all their efforts would be worse than vain!

You men and women working in the workshops,
          working on the farms;
makers of tanks and of tractors, fitters of wings
to metal birds which have not left the nest
as yet, which yet must try their flight;
sowers of seed in season, planters of little plants
at intervals, on acres newly plowed
and disked and harrowed,
to feed a starving world;

You  workers in the shipyards, building ships
which crowd each other down the ways;
miners of coal in dark and dangerous corridors,
           who see the sun's
total eclipse
each morning, disappearing as you do under the earth's rim,
not to emerge into the daylight till the day's
over, and the light dim;

All you
without whose constant effort and whose skill—
without whose loyal and unfailing aid—
men would stand
stranded upon a foreign and a hostile shore
without so much as a stout stick to beat away
Death or Pain:
bullets like angry hornets buzzing ‘round the ears and the
          bewildered brain,
and from the sky again and yet again
the downpour of the heavy, evil, accurate, murderous rain;

"Let them come home! Oh, let the battle, Lord, be brief,
and let our boys come home!"
So cries the heart, sick for relief
from its anxiety, and seeking to forestall
a greater grief.

So cries the heart aloud. But the thoughtful mind
has something of its own to say:
"On that day—
when they come home- from very far away—
and further than you think—
(for each of them has stood upon the very brink
or sat and waited in the anteroom
of Death, expecting every moment to be called by name)

Now look you to this matter well: that they
upon returning shall not find
seated at their own tables,- at the head,
perhaps, of the long festive board prinked out in prodigal array,
the very monster which they sallied forth to conquer and to quell;
and left behind for dead."

Let us forget such words, and all they mean,
as Hatred, Bitterness and Rancor, Greed,
Intolerance, Bigotry; let us renew
our faith and pledge to Man, his right to be
Himself, and free,

Say that the Victory is ours- then say—
and each man search his heart in true humility—
“Lord! Father! Who are we,
that we should wield so great a weapon for the rights
and rehabilitation of Thy creature Man?
Lo, from all corners of the Earth we ask
all great and noble to come forth--converge
upon this errand and this task with generous and gigantic plan:

Hold high this Torch, who will.
Lift up this Sword, who can!"



              All I could see from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood;

I turned and looked another way,

And saw three islands in a bay.

So with my eyes I traced the line

Of the horizon, thin and fine,

Straight around till I was come

Back to where I'd started from;

And all I saw from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood.

Over these things I could not see;

These were the things that bounded me;

And I could touch them with my hand,

Almost, I thought, from where I stand.

And all at once things seemed so small

My breath came short, and scarce at all.

But, sure, the sky is big, I said;

Miles and miles above my head;

So here upon my back I'll lie

And look my fill into the sky.

And so I looked, and, after all,

The sky was not so very tall.

The sky, I said, must somewhere stop,

And--sure enough!--I see the top!

The sky, I thought, is not so grand;

I 'most could touch it with my hand

And reaching up my hand to try,

I screamed to feel it touch the sky.

I screamed, and--lo!--Infinity

Came down and settled over me;

Forced back my scream into my chest,

Bent back my arm upon my breast,

And, pressing of the Undefined

The definition on my mind,

Held up before my eyes a glass

Through which my shrinking sight did pass

Until it seemed I must behold

Immensity made manifold;

Whispered to me a word whose sound

Deafened the air for worlds around,

And brought unmuffled to my ears

The gossiping of friendly spheres,

The creaking of the tented sky,

The ticking of Eternity.

I saw and heard, and knew at last

The How and Why of all things, past,

And present, and forevermore.

The Universe, cleft to the core,

Lay open to my probing sense

That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence

But could not,--nay! But needs must suck

At the great wound, and could not pluck

My lips away till I had drawn

All venom out.--Ah, fearful pawn!

For my omniscience paid I toll

In infinite remorse of soul.

All sin was of my sinning, all

Atoning mine, and mine the gall

Of all regret. Mine was the weight

Of every brooded wrong, the hate

That stood behind each envious thrust,

Mine every greed, mine every lust.

And all the while for every grief,

Each suffering, I craved relief

With individual desire,--

Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire

About a thousand people crawl;

Perished with each,--then mourned for all

A man was starving in Capri;

He moved his eyes and looked at me;

I felt his gaze, I heard his moan,

And knew his hunger as my own.

I saw at sea a great fog bank

Between two ships that struck and sank;

A thousand screams the heavens smote;

And every scream tore through my throat.

No hurt I did not feel, no death

That was not mine; mine each last breath

That, crying, met an answering cry

From the compassion that was I.

All suffering mine, and mine its rod;

Mine, pity like the pity of God.

Ah, awful weight! Infinity

Pressed down upon the finite Me

My anguished spirit, like a bird,

Beating against my lips I heard;

Yet lay the weight so close about

There was no room for it without.

And so beneath the weight lay I

And suffered death, but could not die.

Long had I lain thus, craving death,

When quietly the earth beneath

Gave way, and inch by inch, so great

At last had grown the crushing weight,

Into the earth I sank till I

Full six feet under ground did lie,

And sank no more,--there is no weight

Can follow here, however great.

From off my breast I felt it roll,

And as it went my tortured soul

Burst forth and fled in such a gust

That all about me swirled the dust.

Deep in the earth I rested now;

Cool is its hand upon the brow

And soft its breast beneath the head

Of one who is so gladly dead.

And all at once, and over all

The pitying rain began to fall;

I lay and heard each pattering hoof

Upon my lowly, thatched roof,

And seemed to love the sound far more

Than ever I had done before.

For rain it hath a friendly sound

To one who's six feet underground;

And scarce the friendly voice or face:

A grave is such a quiet place.

The rain, I said, is kind to come

And speak to me in my new home.

I would I were alive again

To kiss the fingers of the rain,

To drink into my eyes the shine

Of every slanting silver line,

To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze

From drenched and dripping apple-trees.

For soon the shower will be done,

And then the broad face of the sun

Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth

Until the world with answering mirth

Shakes joyously, and each round drop

Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top.

How can I bear it; buried here,

While overhead the sky grows clear

And blue again after the storm?

O, multi-colored, multiform,

Beloved beauty over me,

That I shall never, never see

Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold,

That I shall never more behold!

Sleeping your myriad magics through,

Close-sepulchred away from you!

O God, I cried, give me new birth,

And put me back upon the earth!

Upset each clouds gigantic gourd

And let the heavy rain, down-poured

In one big torrent, set me free,

Washing my grave away from me!

I ceased; and through the breathless hush

That answered me, the far-off rush

Of herald wings came whispering

Like music down the vibrant string

Of my ascending prayer, and--crash!

Before the wild wind's whistling lash

The startled storm-clouds reared on high

And plunged in terror down the sky,

And the big rain in one black wave

Fell from the sky and struck my grave.

I know not how such things can be;

I only know there came to me

A fragrance such as never clings

To aught save happy living things;

A sound as of some joyous elf

Singing sweet songs to please himself,

And, through and over everything,

A sense of glad awakening.

The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear,

Whispering to me I could hear;

I felt the rain's cool finger-tips

Brushed tenderly across my lips,

Laid gently on my sealed sight,

And all at once the heavy night

Fell from my eyes and I could see,--

A drenched and dripping apple-tree,

A last long line of silver rain,

A sky grown clear and blue again.

And as I looked a quickening gust

Of wind blew up to me and thrust

Into my face a miracle

Of orchard-breath, and with the smell,--

I know not how such things can be!--

I breathed my soul back into me.

Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I

And hailed the earth with such a cry

As is not heard save from a man

Who has been dead, and lives again.

About the trees my arms I wound;

Like one gone mad I hugged the ground;

I raised my quivering arms on high;

I laughed and laughed into the sky,

Till at my throat a strangling sob

Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb

Sent instant tears into my eyes;

O God, I cried, no dark disguise

Can e'er hereafter hide from me

Thy radiant identity!

Thou canst not move across the grass

But my quick eyes will see Thee pass,

Nor speak, however silently,

But my hushed voice will answer Thee.

I know the path that tells Thy way

Through the cool eve of every day;

God, I can push the grass apart

And lay my finger on Thy heart!

The world stands out on either side

No wider than the heart is wide;

Above the world is stretched the sky,--

No higher than the soul is high.

The heart can push the sea and land

Farther away on either hand;

The soul can split the sky in two,

And let the face of God shine through.

But East and West will pinch the heart

That can not keep them pushed apart;

And he whose soul is flat--the sky

Will cave in on him by and by.

On bold, the verses that used to move Sylvia Plath, when she was a child, according to her mother (Letters Home, page 32).
Other pages of mine on this poet here and here.