An Ancient Gesture

“An Ancient Gesture” is one of my favorite poems by the inspirational Edna St. Vincent Millay (I may have to profile her at some point as she lived quite a life). I rediscovered this poem recently and had to share it. It is quite lovely plus I am a sucker for mythology.

An Ancient Gesture

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.

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