We talk of taxes . . .
- WE talk of taxes, and I call you friend;
- Well, such you are, -- but well enough we know
- How thick about us root, how rankly grow
- Those subtle weeds no man has need to tend,
- That flourish through neglect, and soon must send
- Perfume too sweet upon us and overthrow
- Our steady senses; how such matters go
- We are aware, and how such matters end.
- Yet shall be told no meagre passion here;
- With lovers such as we forevermore
- Isolde drinks the draught, and Guinevere
- Receives the Table's ruin through her door,
- Francesca, with the loud surf at her ear,
- Lets fall the coloured book upon the floor.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay(1892-1950)
This unnamed sonnet published in 1921 in Second April
by American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) shows her great ability to use traditional verse forms with the expression of simple strong emotions. Millay cleverly layers three tragic love stories. Tristram's Isolde, where Isolde drinks the poison draught. Lancelot's Receives the Table's ruin for his tragic love for Guinevere. Both are tales from Arthurian legend probably handed down from the Celts. Lastly is Paolo's Francesca, whose story is told in the 5th Canto of Dante's Inferno. She was the wife of Giovanni Malatesta, the crippled son of the Lord of Rimini. Francesca would often sit reading the romance of Lancelot and Guinevere with Giovanni's younger brother, Paolo. The love story evoked their own dormant feelings for each other and they became lovers. Giovanni discovers them and kills them both and Francesca Lets fall the colored book upon the floor.
Though Millay's thoughts aren't complex or original they were unfamiliar to many Americans and she soon acquired a reputation for novelty. Her verses were frequently lyrical and spontaneous that occasionally lapsed into sentimentality. We are made aware... how such matters end and told there is no meagre passion here. All three legends deal with realtionships that began in friendship, blossomed into true love only to end in tragedy.
About the great lovers Francesca and Paolo in the sestet of this poem you can see the "colored book" in the watercolor of Rossetti's famous interpretation of the story . It's a watercolor triptych of Dante led by Virgil, his guide through the underworld, flanked by images of the lovers.
Rossetti also did another well known interpretation of Tristan and Isolde drinking their fatal love potion and you can view that piece at :
Bram, Robert Philips, Norma H. Dicky, "Millay," Funk & Wagnalls New Encyclopedia , 1988.
Paolo and Francesca (Dante, Inferno, canto 5.):