Lines from A Poet’s Last Offering

Edna St Vincent Millay died in October 1950, pitching headfirst down the stairs. But not before she had sent a poem, “Thanksgiving…1950” off to The Saturday Evening Post. If you want to read the whole thing, you can enter those titles in your search box.

I have tried to find out what had happened in 1950, what was the threatening, portentous event she is mirroring? Does anybody know? Was the Korean “Police action” this big a deal?Cuz this poem coulda been written after 9/11.

Here, at random, are some of the lines, which I chose for my traditional Thanksgiving recital in years past. ( I reward myself for all my labor by reciting a poem when I make my Thanksgiving toast. My guests love it! or, well, at least they’re used to it by now… but I think this year I’ll say Malcolm Guite’s Thanksgiving Sonnet).

Back to Millay:

“Hard, hard it is this anxious Autumn
To lift the heavy mind from its dark forebodings
To sit at this bright feast, and with ruddy cheer
Give thanks for the harvest of a troubled year.

Ah, but is it right to feast in a time so solemn?
Should we not, rather, fast, and give the day to prayer?

Prayer yes, but fasting , no.
Soldier and citizen alike, we are a marching column,
And how long the march may be, and over what terrain
Nor how much of hunger, hardship and pain
We may be called on to endure, we do not know. And fortitude
Takes muscle, and needs food.

Never more dear than in a thoughtful hour like this
Are the faces around the table; each stands out
More sharply, and is looked at longer,
And smiles are deep, from behind the eyes
And somewhat quizzical, lest they go too far in tenderness.»

[Tru DAT, Edna!]

If you like poetry, I hope you’ll read the entire thing , especially since what I’m posting here is from memory.
Oh there’s lots more good stuff! But I’ll just give you the ending: in fellowship, in gratitude for your cyber-companionship, in tremulous hope for our country:

“From the apprehensive present, from a future packed
With unknown dangers, monstrous, terrible and new,
Let us turn for comfort to this simple fact:
We have been in trouble before—and we came through! “


Only perfect timing, @Hypatia! Have a wonderful Turkey Day!


Thank you, Hypatia.

As for what troubles in 1950 had Ms. Millay brooding, I think it may have been the atomic bomb testing being done by the Soviets, the Americans and the French.


Welcome aboard! Good to see you.


Welcome, MJB!
Yeah, maybe, but one of the verses is:

“this is nothing new, that we should be attacked
While we are sleeping. Is it not always so?
And, dazed and unprepared, start up to act
Rubbing our eyes, not knowing where to go.”

……Which sounds like Pearl Harbor or sump’n.

Ok,I can’t resist! The next lines are:

“Yet the trained hand does not forget its skill
Nor can we lay precision and speed aside.
Strength we have, and courage: an acetylene will,
A timorous vigilance, but a brave pride.”

I LOVE “acetylene will”, evoking that hard, singing blue flame! and I also think “timorous vigilance” is nigh perfect. It WAS this way, after 9/11. But do we STILL have the will, the pride? Like Millay, I hope so.


In August 1950, Mao decided to enter the Norks’ fight in Korea against the South Koreans and the Americans. In October, he went to Moscow to visit with Stalin and get the green light. In mid-October 1950, Truman had to fly to Wake to meet with MacArthur because MacArthur refused to fly to DC to confer with him; this was scary and public instability at the top. In late October 1950, a couple of hundred thousand Chinese troops invaded North Korea and successfully fought their way south, while the Allies retreated, routed. Five years after our victory in the Pacific, we were looking to lose in a big way.

this is nothing new, that we should be attacked
While we are sleeping. Is it not always so?
And, dazed and unprepared, start up to act
Rubbing our eyes, not knowing where to go.

The poem was written around that time, and published in November. It would be 6 months before Matthew Ridgeway would be appointed to replace MacArthur. Ridgeway turned things around.


Thank you , @jzdro!

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Thank you!


Thanks for the greeting. I am happy to see some old friends here.

It is fitting that my first comment on Scanalyst would be on a Hypatia poetry post.