Edna St. Vincent Millay

(22 February 1892 – 19 October 1950 / Rockland / Maine / United States)

An Ancient Gesture

Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
Penelope did this too.
And more than once: you can't keep weaving all day
And undoing it all through the night;
Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight;
And along towards morning, when you think it will never be light,
And your husband has been gone, and you don't know where, for years.
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.

And I thought, as I wiped my eyes on the corner of my apron:
This is an ancient gesture, authentic, antique,
In the very best tradition, classic, Greek;
Ulysses did this too.
But only as a gesture,—a gesture which implied
To the assembled throng that he was much too moved to speak.
He learned it from Penelope...
Penelope, who really cried.

Comments about An Ancient Gesture by Edna St. Vincent Millay

  • John Morris (2/25/2018 1:44:00 PM)

    I know it's good because I think of it so often, the humanity, the concreteness of the stiff neck and the apron, and the length of the night suggested by the length of the sentence - it's pretty much perfect, and it's beautiful.(Report)Reply

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  • Chris Potter (12/1/2015 12:53:00 PM)

    ahh....ahH...aHH... AHH CHOOOO! this is old and dusty. it made me sneeze.(Report)Reply

    3 person liked.
    2 person did not like.
  • * Sunprincess * (11/15/2015 6:03:00 PM)

    .........very imaginative, truly original ★(Report)Reply

    1 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • Colleen Courtney (5/16/2014 2:55:00 PM)

    I'm almost positive there is not a single person out there who's arms have never lofted to make this gesture!
    As she says, sometimes there's just nothing else you can do!(Report)Reply

    2 person liked.
    4 person did not like.
  • David GerardinoDavid Gerardino (2/1/2012 10:05:00 PM)

    Your arms get tired, and the back of your neck gets tight, VERY GOOD,(Report)Reply

    12 person liked.
    8 person did not like.
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Read poems about / on: husband, light, night

Poem Submitted: Monday, January 13, 2003