Today’s poem was selected by Caroline Donnola from Brooklyn, NY.
Nicola Sacco, a shoemaker, and Bartolomeo Vanzetti , a fish peddlar, immigrated from Italy to the United States in 1908. They met in 1917 while resisting the draft during World War I. They became attracted to anarchist ideas out of sympathy for their fellow workers and disillusionment about their adopted country. On April 15, 1920 in South Braintree, Massachusetts, a paymaster and guard were killed during a robbery; three weeks later Sacco and Vanzetti were arrested and charged with the crime. The evidence was problematic and both men had alibis, but after seven years of imprisonment, Sacco and Vanzetti were found guilty and then electrocuted. Their trial prompted international outcry as it appeared to many that they were executed not for committing a crime but for their radical political beliefs and activism.
The day before their execution took place, a poem about them was published in the New York Times by Edna St. Vincent Millay. At the time, Millay was one of the country’s most successful poets. She was a Pulitzer Prize winner, a feminist and a progressive. Her poem is not literal and does not speak directly about Sacco and Vanzetti, and its subject matter is much broader. The title of the poem, however, makes a clear statement. And because it ran in the Times, it was seen as both poetry and a news story, which is one of the things I love about it. I find it haunting and worth another look though today’s eyes.”
Justice Denied in Massachusetts
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Let us abandon then our gardens and go home
And sit in the sitting-room.
Shall the larkspur blossom or the corn grow under this cloud?
Sour to the fruitful seed
Is the cold earth under this cloud,
Fostering quack and weed, we have marched upon but cannot
We have bent the blades of our hoes against the stalks of them.
Let us go home, and sit in the sitting room.
Not in our day
Shall the cloud go over and the sun rise as before,
Beneficent upon us
Out of the glittering bay,
And the warm winds be blown inward from the sea
Moving the blades of corn
With a peaceful sound.
Stands the blue hay-rack by the empty mow.
And the petals drop to the ground,
Leaving the tree unfruited.
The sun that warmed our stooping backs and withered the weed
We shall not feel it again.
We shall die in darkness, and be buried in the rain.
What from the splendid dead
We have inherited —
Furrows sweet to the grain, and the weed subdued —
See now the slug and the mildew plunder.
Evil does overwhelm
The larkspur and the corn;
We have seen them go under.
Let us sit here, sit still,
Here in the sitting-room until we die;
At the step of Death on the walk, rise and go;
Leaving to our children’s children the beautiful doorway,
And this elm,
And a blighted earth to till
With a broken hoe.
Our celebration of National Poetry month continues throughout April with poems chosen or written by P4P members.