Thursday, December 10, 2009

First published on November 22, 2009

Perhaps you remember my telling you, a couple of weeks ago, that a journal had rejected my Milly Jourdain essay with the friendly caveat that the editors liked my writing better than hers. Well, an odd thing happened yesterday: I received an email from one of the editors saying that they'd changed their mind; that in fact they couldn't stop thinking about the resurrection of Milly (though they weren't necessarily prepared to admit her into the real-poet club); and could they publish the essay after all?

This hemming-and-hawing exactly parallels my own attraction to Milly. I read Hilary Spurling's biography of Ivy Compton-Burnett; I stumbled over the excerpts from Milly's work; I thought, "Hmm. These aren't bad"; I finished the book and stuck it back onto the bookshelf. But days later, I couldn't quite forget Milly's words, so I took the book back off the shelf and read them again. I cannot argue that her poems are great literature, yet there is something about them--something mysterious and sad, and very fragile--that lingers in the mind. And it seems that this lingering is true for other readers as well.

The story doesn't yet have a happy ending: by the time I'd heard again from the editor, I'd already submitted the essay to a different journal, and I need to wait for that response. But it does seem that, in one venue or another, Milly's story will eventually have a larger readership than this blog.

So in celebration of her small voice, here is today's poem:

Unseen Beauty

Milly Jourdain

I hear the distant sound of birds
All singing in the dusk of spring
Until the air is tremulous,
And mists about the river cling.

It makes me sad to think of all
The beauty that is still unknown,
The flowers budding in the night,
The open fields where winds have blown.

The air grows cold, the birds are still,
And only, in the fading light,
Along the streets a shivering wind
Blows from the unseen quiet night.

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