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A few figs from thistles…

The world stands out on either side
No wider than the heart is wide;
Above the world is stretched the sky,—        
No higher than the soul is high.
The heart can push the sea and land
Farther away on either hand;
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.

Edna St Vincent Millay vaulted to public attention in 1912 with her poem “Renascence.” Anyone over fifty will remember these lines from the last stanza as the closing words on Dave Garroway’s “Today” show in the early 1950s. I don’t recall if he ever gave Millay any credit.

Millay’s first book of poetry, A Few Figs from Thistles, was published in 1920, when she was twenty-eight, and included two short poems, “First Fig” and “Second Fig.” My friend Howard Tabor was a literature major at Northwest Iowa Normal and later at Iowa City, probably where he encountered the New York poet. It must have stuck, though, because years later when he became a journalist, Howard wrote a Saturday local interest column with that title, “A few figs from thistles….” No one reads Millay anymore—which is a shame—and I suspect Howard had about as many readers, too.

During Agincourt’s sesqui-centennial, the content of Howard’s column took a decided turn toward retrospection. Starting with a column on The Obelisk, a landmark situated discretely west of the courthouse, “A few figs…” treated many of the community’s other equally picturesque places and people. So, if you’re looking for local lore, search this blog for “Figs…” and enjoy. They don’t “bite” like Cleopatra’s.

Or perhaps they do. Millay’s poem ends with a last stanza that you might consider a downer, so read it with caution:

But East and West will pinch the heart

That cannot keep them pushed apart.

And he whose soul is flat,

The sky will cave in on him by and by.

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