My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends-
It gives a lovely light.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay
I was surprised to hear this poem recited in an episode of The Waltons yesterday, taking place in John Boy's , an aspiring writer, writing class. "Remain curious," the speaker says, "imagination dies when one is no longer curious". She then recites "First Fig", saying that this poem describes what being a writer should be, and the essence of what curiosity means to writing. The class ends on that note, and it has had me wondering since: How does this poem speak to the curiosity of a writer?
The imagery of a candle burning at both ends is a pace twice as fast as usual and, as a result, it is unsustainable. But even so, the beauty of such a candle, burning at both ends, gives a light twice as bright, something ignite a foe's jealousy, and something to share with friends. It speaks to gratification, indulgence, and passion, a worthy poem that speaks to the wildness of Millay, herself.
The curiosity of a writer means exploring everything, even something as simplistic, yet complex, as light. Light is something already explored by countless others but seeing it differently is the key. A candle burning at both ends, a short lived wonder that elicits awe. To me, it means take everything given to you, and explore it, love it, and be passionate about it. A recurring trouble of John Boy in The Waltons is that although he is desperate to be a writer, he has only ever lived in the mountains of Virginia, and he has never explored the world, and therefore cannot write about it. But what this poem says to me, is that you do not have to go to extraordinary measures to write great poetry, the story a poet is looking for is surrounding them, they just have to be curious enough to find it, and imaginative enough to dream it.