Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy
I. Now by this moon, before this moon shall wane
III. I shall forget you presently, my dear
II. Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
SATB (div.) a cappella
Grant Park Chorus; Christopher Bell, conductor
Songs of Smaller Creatures, Cedille Records CDR 90000 131 • Purchase recording
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Inkjar Publishing Company
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Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was an American poet who produced a great body of work in her lifetime. Among her works are several books of poetry, essays, plays, an opera libretto, and over two hundred sonnets. The sonnets cover a vast range of topics including love, loss, beauty, music, death, war, science, legendary figures, and the end of humanity. Beautifully constructed, I find that many of Millay’s sonnets are well suited to be set to music. From 2000-2006, I set sixteen of her sonnets for a cappella choir, arranged into six sonnet sets.
Sonnets of Desire, Longing, and Whimsy explores three aspects of love: unrequited passion, the ache after a breakup, and flirtation.
1. Now by this moon
Now by this moon, before this moon shall wane
I shall be dead or I shall be with you!
No moral concept can outweigh the pain
Past rack and wheel this absence puts me through;
Faith, honour, pride, endurance, what the tongues
Of tedious men will say, or what the law—
For which of these do I fill up my lungs
With brine and fire at every breath I draw?
Time, and to spare, for patience by and by,
Time to be cold and time to sleep alone;
Let me no more until the hour I die
Defraud my innocent senses of their own.
Before this moon shall darken, say of me:
She's in her grave, or where she wants to be.
2. Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
3. I shall forget you presently
I shall forget you presently, my dear,
So make the most of this, your little day,
Your little month, your little half a year
Ere I forget, or die, or move away,
And we are done forever; by and by
I shall forget you, as I said, but now,
If you entreat me with your loveliest lie
I will protest you with my favorite vow.
I would indeed that love were longer-lived,
And vows were not so brittle as they are,
But so it is, and nature has contrived
To struggle on without a break thus far,—
Whether or not we find what we are seeking
Is idle, biologically speaking.