[ # 80 of My Favourite Short Poems ]
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poet and playwright who was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892. I have used a short poem of hers before in this series – in November of 2017, q.v. . . . ‘What Lips My Lips Have Kissed’ .
This poem is even shorter, but I find that it does have a lot to say, about her own lifestyle and about the times and the milieu which she inhabited in her heyday in 1920s New York. Millay titled the book in which this poem was published A Few Figs From Thistles, and this poem was the first one in the book, hence ‘First Fig’.
The poem is highly symbolic and the opening line plunges the reader into that arresting metaphor which she uses to describe her wild, bohemian, certainly unorthodox spirit. The second line, however, recognises the ephemeral nature of such an existence with the bitter-sweet ‘It will not last the night’. She is acknowledging that brightness is not all, a candle burning simultaneously from both ends will burn twice as quickly and such hedonistic times will not last.
Figs from Thistles: First Fig
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!