We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 18: Edna St. Vincent Millay


Human Wrongs Watch

By John Scales Avery* 

John Scales Avery, author of this book: We Need Their Voices Today! has generously granted Human Wrongs Watch permission to publish it in a series of chapters. This is Chapter 18: Edna St. Vincent Millay. The others will follow successively.

 

edna

Figure 18.1: The American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay, (public domain).

The beautiful red-haired American poet, Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), is known for her lyric poetry, but she also wrote some of the finest sonnets in the English language, combining classic form with modern imagery.

Many of these sonnets are based on the emotions that she experienced in her love affairs with both men and women.

However, my own favorite is a serious sequence of eighteen sonnets, “Epitaph for the Race of Man”, published in 1934, just as the catastrophe of World War II was about to engulf our planet.

The basic premise of Millay’s “Epitaph” is that we know from the evolutionary history of life on earth, that no species survives forever.

She speculates on what will be the final cause of the extinction of the human race, and concludes that Man will die by his own hand, since none the innumerable disasters that nature has thrown at us over the millennia has persuaded humankind “to lay aside the lever and the spade, and be as dust among the dusts that blow”. Here are a few of the sonnets from the sequence:

“Oh Earth, unhappy planet, born to die,

Might I your scribe and your confessor be,

What wonders must you not relate to me

Of Man, who, when his destiny was high

Strode like the sun into the middle sky

And shone an hour, and who so bright as he,

And like the sun went down into the sea,

Leaving no spark to be remembered by.

But no; you have not learned in all these years

To tell the leopard and the newt apart;

Man, with his singular laughter, his droll tears,

His engines and his conscience and his art,

Made but a simple sound upon your ears:

The patient beating of an animal heart.”

 

“Alas for Man, so stealthily betrayed,

Bearing the bad cell in him from the start,

Pumping and feeding on his healthy heart

That wild disorder never to be stayed

When once established, destined to invade

With angry hordes the true and proper part,

‘Til Reason joggles in the headsman’s cart.

And Mania spits from every balustrade.

Would he had searched his closet for his bane,

Where lurked the trusted ancient of his soul,

Obsequious Greed, and seen that visage plain;

Would he had whittled treason from his side

In his stout youth and bled his body whole,

Then had he died a king, or never died.”

 

“Here lies, and none to mourn him but the sea,

That falls incessant on the empty shore,

Most various Man, cut down to spring no more;

Before his prime, even in his infancy

Cut down, and all the clamour that was he,

Silenced; and all the riveted pride he wore,

A rusted iron column whose tall core

The rains have tunneled like an aspen tree.

Man, doughty Man, what power has brought you low,

That heaven itself in arms could not persuade

To lay aside the lever and the spade

And be as dust among the dusts that blow?

Whence, whence the broadside? Whose the heavy blade?…

Strive not to speak, poor scattered mouth; I know.”

It seems to me that although Millay’s words were extremely appropriate as a warning to humankind in 1934, they are even more heavy with meaning today, when we are threatened with the disaster of thermonuclear war as well as catastrophic climate change, both self-inflicted.

The cancer-like root of the problem is “obsequious Greed”. Please read the whole sonnet sequence yourself. Millay speaks eloquently to us over the years:

Edna St. Vincent Millay, eloquent poet with a deepconcern for the future of humsnity, we need your voice today!

——-

Read Previous Chapters:

Introduction: We Need Their Voices Today! Compassion and Greed: Two Sides of Human Nature

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (1) Saint Francis of Assisi

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (2) Thomas Paine

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (3) Thomas Jefferson

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (4) Mary Wollstonecraft

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (5) William Godwin

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (7) The Marquis de Condorcet

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 8: Thomas Robert Malthus

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 9: Percy Bysshe Shelley

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 10: Robert Owen

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 11: John Stuart Mill

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 12: Henry David Thoreau

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 13: Count Leo Tolstoy

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 14: Mahatma Gandhi

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 15: Martin Luther King Jr

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 16: Wilfred Owen

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 17: Albert Einstein 

——-

johnavery2*AUTHOR: John Scales Avery, Ph.D., who was part of a group that shared the 1995 Nobel Peace Prize for their work in organizing the Pugwash Conferences on Science and World Affairs, is a member of the TRANSCEND Network and Associate Professor Emeritus at the H.C. Ørsted Institute, University of Copenhagen, Denmark.

He is chairman of both the Danish National Pugwash Group and the Danish Peace Academy and received his training in theoretical physics and theoretical chemistry at M.I.T., the University of Chicago and the University of London.

He is the author of numerous books and articles both on scientific topics and on broader social questions. His most recent books are Information Theory and Evolution and Civilization’s Crisis in the 21st Century (pdf).

Read more John Scales Avery’s articles published in Human Wrongs Watch:

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 17: Albert Einstein 

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 16: Wilfred Owen

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 15: Martin Luther King Jr

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 14: Mahatma Gandhi

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 13: Count Leo Tolstoy

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 12: Henry David Thoreau

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 11: John Stuart Mill

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 10: Robert Owen

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 9: Percy Bysshe Shelley

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter 8: Thomas Robert Malthus

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (7) The Marquis de Condorcet

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (5) William Godwin

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (4) Mary Wollstonecraft

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (3) Thomas Jefferson

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (2) Thomas Paine

We Need Their Voices Today! Chapter (1) Saint Francis of Assisi

We Need Their Voices Today! Compassion and Greed: Two Sides of Human Nature

Interview with John Scales Avery, One of the Greatest Living Intellectuals on Earth

Trump and the Deep State

Individual  Responsibility

We Must Not Demonize and Threaten Russia

Tribalism, Nationalism and Fascism

Europe Must Not Be a Vassal to Trump’s USA

Trump Threatens the World with Climate Disaster

Gorbachev Appeals for Sanity, Dialogue

What U.S. Progressives Should Do on November 8

Science and Society

Fossil Fuels: At What Price?

Human Nature: An Evolutionary Paradox

Mainstream Media Are Betraying Humanity

US Elections Cry Out for Reform!

NATO Threatens Europe With Annihilation

USA: Another Stolen Election?

The Danger of Fascism in the United States

Creating the Future

OPEC Oil and Climate Change

A Scientist Presses for Action on Many Fronts: A Review of The Need for a New Economic System by John Scales Avery

John Scales Avery – Collected Essays

Pharming

Culture, Education and Human Solidarity

The United States Drifts Towards Political Irresponsibilty

Paris: We Need System Change!

Paris and the Long-Term Future

We Must Stop the Madness of Brinkmanship

Paris, India, and Coal

Paris: A Sense of Proportions Is Urgently Needed

Debt Slavery

Book Review: Aurelio Peccei and Daisako Ikeda, “Before It Is Too Late”

The Need for a New Economic System – PART IX: a New Society, a New Social Contract, a New Way Life

The Need for a New Economic System – PART VIII: The Cooperative Movement

The Need for a New Economic System – PART VII: The Global Food Crisis

The Need for a New Economic System – PART VI: Adverse Effects of Globalization

The Need for a New Economic System – PART V: The Threats and Costs of War

The Need for a New Economic System – PART IV: Neocolonialism and Resource Wars

The Need for a New Economic System – Part III: Climate Change and the Urgent Need for Renewable Energy

The Need for a New Economic System – PART II: Entropy and Economics

The Need for a New Economic System – PART I : Limits to Growth

Israel, Iran and the Nuclear Non-Proliferation Treaty

Debt Slavery

Will the Real Issues Be Discussed in 2016?

Militarism’s Hostages

New Hope for Avoiding Catastrophic Climate Change

Exponential Growth

Albert Einstein, Scientist and Pacifist

“The Path to Zero: Dialogues on Nuclear Dangers”, by Richard Falk and David Krieger

Millay’s “Epitaph for the Race of Man” 

The Future of International Law (Part I)

The Future of International Law (Part II)

The Future of International Law (Part III)

Europe Must Not Be Forced Into a Nuclear War with Russia

Tactical Nuclear Weapons in Europe – The Dangers Are Very Great Today

Why Is the Total Elimination of Nuclear Weapons So Urgent?

Why Is the Military-Industrial Complex Sometimes Called “The Devil’s Dynamo”?

Of Reciprocity and Karma

Adam Smith’s Invisible Hand Is at Our Throats

Perpetual War

Kill or Be Killed… Or Both!

Does It Make Sense to Saw Off the Branch on Which You Are Sitting?

Blood for Oil – The Close Relationship Between Petroleum and War

2017 Human Wrongs Watch 

 

 

 

 

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