Never May the Fruit Be Picked

- 1892-1950
Never, never may the fruit be plucked from the bough
And gathered into barrels.
He that would eat of love must eat it where it hangs.
Though the branches bend like reeds,
Though the ripe fruit splash in the grass or wrinkle on the tree,
He that would eat of love may bear away with him
Only what his belly can hold,
Nothing in the apron,
Nothing in the pockets.
Never, never may the fruit be gathered from the bough
And harvested in barrels.
The winter of love is a cellar of empty bins,
In an orchard soft with rot.

More by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Witch-Wife

She is neither pink nor pale,
    And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
    And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
    In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
    Or steps leading into the sea.

She loves me all that she can, 
    And her ways to my ways resign; 
But she was not made for any man, 
    And she never will be all mine.

The Suicide

"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,—
Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away,
As if spent passion were a holiday!
And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow
Of tardy kindness can avail thee now
With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown;
Lonely I came, and I depart alone,
And know not where nor unto whom I go;
But that thou canst not follow me I know."

Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain
My thought ran still, until I spake again:

"Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace
Is mine to bear away of that old grace
I brought! I have been heated in thy fires,
Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires,
Thy mark is on me! I am not the same
Nor ever more shall be, as when I came.
Ashes am I of all that once I seemed.
In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed
Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee,
For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me,
Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing
Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing
To have about the house when I was grown
If thou hadst left my little joys alone!
I asked of thee no favor save this one:
That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun!
And this thou didst deny, calling my name
Insistently, until I rose and came.
I saw the sun no more.—It were not well
So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell,
Need I arise to-morrow and renew
Again my hated tasks, but I am through
With all things save my thoughts and this one night,
So that in truth I seem already quite
Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste
And no reluctance to depart; I taste
Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught,
That in a little while I shall have quaffed."

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled,
Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed
Before me one by one till once again
I set new words unto an old refrain:

"Treasures thou hast that never have been mine!
Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine
Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown
Like blossoms out to me that sat alone!
And I have waited well for thee to show
If any share were mine,—and now I go
Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain
I shall but come into mine own again!"

Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more,
But turning, straightway, sought a certain door
In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low
And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go
That other exit had, and never knock
Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock
Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily,
Whereof Life held content the useless key,
And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust,
Whose sudden voice across a silence must,
I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,—
A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.—So near
I came I felt upon my feet the chill
Of acid wind creeping across the sill.
So stood longtime, till over me at last
Came weariness, and all things other passed
To make it room; the still night drifted deep
Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep.

But, suddenly, marking the morning hour,
Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower!
Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout
Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without.

* * * *

Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, 
Leading me back unto my old abode, 
My father's house! There in the night I came, 
And found them feasting, and all things the same 
As they had been before. A splendour hung 
Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung 
As, echoing out of very long ago, 
Had called me from the house of Life, I know.
So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame
On the unlovely garb in which I came;
Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked:
"It is my father's house!" I said and knocked;
And the door opened. To the shining crowd
Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud,
Seeing no face but his; to him I crept,
And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept.

* * * *

Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone
I wandered through the house. My own, my own,
My own to touch, my own to taste and smell,
All I had lacked so long and loved so well!
None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song,
Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long.

I know not when the wonder came to me
Of what my father's business might be,
And whither fared and on what errands bent
The tall and gracious messengers he sent.
Yet one day with no song from dawn till night
Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight.
And the next day I called; and on the third
Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard.
Then, sick with longing, I arose at last
And went unto my father,—in that vast
Chamber wherein he for so many years
Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres.
"Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play
The harp that thou didst give me, and all day
I sit in idleness, while to and fro
About me thy serene, grave servants go;
And I am weary of my lonely ease.
Better a perilous journey overseas
Away from thee, than this, the life I lead,
To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed
That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they
Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way.
Father, I beg of thee a little task
To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask
Forever, but forever, this denied,
I perish."
        "Child," my father's voice replied,
"All things thy fancy hath desired of me
Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee
Within my house a spacious chamber, where
Are delicate things to handle and to wear,
And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song?
My minstrels shall attend thee all day long.
Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand
Open as fields to thee on every hand.
And all thy days this word shall hold the same:
No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name.
But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head;
"Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.

Second Fig

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: 
Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

Related Poems

spring love noise and all [excerpt]

            but i wondered what i would talk about      because
 here in southern california youre never really sure when
spring begins      i mean the experience of spring      the
 vernal equinox is one thing      but spring is something else
      and ive been living out here twenty years and i cant
 always tell when its spring
                                    my guess is it comes on some time
 in late february      and you hardly notice it      a few branch
  ends turn yellow a few wildflowers begin to sprout an 
occasionally different bird appears      and you figure it
 might as well be spring

            now thats a little different from springs i
 remember where i came from      in the east when its spring
      boy are you ready for it      if you lived in new york
 city or upstate new york about 130 miles north of the city
      the way you'd know spring was coming was that around the
end of march you'd hear rolls of thunder or cannonades that
  would mean the ice was breaking on the river you'd say gee
it must be spring the ice is breaking on the river      and it
 was like a series of deep distant drum rolls
  brrrrrrrrrrmbrrrrrrrrrrrm      and you didn't feel much
better about it      because the sky was still gray and cold
 and the trees were still bare

            in fact you felt better in january because the snow
seemed to keep you warm especially when the temperature got
 down around zero and the snow was piled up around the house
and along the roadside      because after every snow the snow
  ploughs would clear out the road and pile up the snow along
 the roadside into a wall from six to ten feet high that
 would shield the houses from the wind and you'd shovel out a 
pathway to the street      but inside it was warm      and pretty
  much everybody in this little town of north branch felt
 insulated and warm and pretty good in january as long as the
  heating fuel held out      and they didn't feel too bad in
february either

            but when the spring came      in march      and you
 heard the dull cannonade on the river      thats when you
started to feel bad      because it had been so cold and bare
 and gray      and you had been holding out so long for the
wild mustard and the goldfinches      and maybe the coming of
 the quince      that the sound coming off the river      that
  seemed to promise an entry into the land of the hearts
 desire      which you knew would take another month at least
      made you feel real bad

            so thats why when the spring came to north branch at
the end of march      it seemed that every year two people would
 hang themselves off their back porch      because they couldn't
  wait anymore

      but there was the other side of spring and you
expected great things of it      because you had read all those
 marvelous sweet and jingling poems by those provençal
bullshitters waiting for spring to come so they could go out
 into the fields and fuck and kill people      brash and noise
poems that went on as i remember something like "oh spring is
 here the birds are singing lets go out and fight some
  battles and make it in the grass" in a cheerful jingling and
 very overrated way
                             that my friend paul blackburn did the best
 he could with      which was to bury the jingle and jazz up the
noise a bit      to make them sound a little bit like ezra
 pound and a little bit like paul doing an east village macho
  number      and a lot better than they sound to my ears in
 provençal      and with poetic generosity he covered up the
banality of their vocabulary and their tedious ideas if you
 could call their attitudes ideas and it all sounded so
cheerful that we thought it must have been a good idea to sit
 in toulouse and welcome the spring

            but dont you believe it      toulouse is a dreadful
place and nobody wants to be there      everyone in toulouse
 would rather be in paris      so if you have a choice about
the spring you dont want to spend it in toulouse
                                                             paul actually 
 lived there for a while      and he was always running off to
paris or mallorca or to spain

            but wherever you are you are likely to have this
idea of what it means for spring to come      and you know how
 it will come and when it will come      because in your
expectations it always comes      in a neat order the way
  seasons do      because there are exactly four of them and
they are very nicely named and there are exactly three months
 in them and they very obediently follow the astronomical year