Last weekend we made a pilgrimage to Ragged Island: eighty or so acres of rocky ocean outcropping off the coast of Maine that's equal parts rugged & magical and happens to be the family-retreat-since-childhood of a good sangha friend (who, along with his dakini wife and their dog Basho, is also equal parts rugged & magical).
We spent the day playing in the woods and swimming in the sea. There were goats and sheep and a great juniper bush you could lay on like a mattress under the open sky. Everything about the place felt powerful & good, soothing & fierce.
Before the island came into the hands of our friends' family, it was the summer retreat of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a heroine of my lineage of American feminist poets. Our host brought us out around the side of the island about which this poem is written, but I didn't take a photograph of it. Her words do it better justice...
817. Ragged Island, by Edna St. Vincent Millay
There, there where those black spruces crowd
To the edge of the precipitous cliff,
Above your boat, under the eastern wall of the island;
And no wave breaks; as if
All had been done, and long ago, that needed
Doing; and the cold tide, unimpeded
By shoal or shelving ledge, moves up and down,
Instead of in and out;
And there is no driftwood there, because there is no beach;
Clean cliff going down as deep as clear water can reach;
No driftwood, such as abounds on the roaring shingle,
To be hefted home, for fires in the kitchen stove;
Barrels, banged ashore about the boiling outer harbour;
Lobster-buoys, on the eel-grass of the sheltered cove:
There, thought unbraids itself, and the mind becomes single.
There you row with tranquil oars, and the ocean
Shows no scar from the cutting of your placid keel;
Care becomes senseless there; pride and promotion
Remote; you only look; you scarcely feel.
Even adventure, with its vital uses,
Is aimless ardour now; and thrift is waste.
Oh, to be there, under the silent spruces,
Where the wide, quiet evening darkens without haste
Over a sea with death acquainted, yet forever chaste.