The Poets

February 22, 2010

God's World- a Millay Poem

God's World

O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!

Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Of the Poem:

I first read this poem last year. It was so powerful a message that I remember exactly- down to the singular most detail of the day- where I was when I read it.

The reason it moved me so deeply is because I've long understood and known the overwhelming presence of Beauty that exists in the world. It's everywhere, crushing in all around me to the point that I feel unable to talk or move or think ... I see it in the trees, I smell it in the air, I feel it permeate dark summer nights. Beauty's everywhere. Everywhere!

It's a mystifying aspect of existence I know all too well, and it sits perpetually by just waiting for me to pause and acknowledge it, and the second I do- every time without fail!- it breaks in on me with the force of a sacred deluge, and inundates everything I am to the point of irreversible rapture ...

I believe this is the point of Millay's poem: Beauty's overwhelming glory made manifest in this humble world. In the first stanza she can't seem to get enough of it, but by the end of the second stanza she doubts whether she can take in anymore of its incredible glory: My soul is all but out of me, she says, and continues:

let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

Should another autumn leaf fall or bird sing she feels she'll loose herself entirely in the beauty of it.

When I read this poem I’m reminded of William Wordsworth’s Composed Upon Westminster Bridge, September 3, 1802, and how amazed he was that there are those in the world who hardly recognize the beauty that surrounds them:

Dull would he be of soul who could pass by
A sight so touching in its majesty

I’m also reminds of a beautiful quote from a scene out of American Beauty:

“It was one of those days when it's a minute away from snowing and there's this electricity in the air, you can almost hear it. And this bag was, like, dancing with me. Like a little kid begging me to play with it. For fifteen minutes. And that's the day I knew there was this entire life behind things, and... this incredibly benevolent force, that wanted me to know there was no reason to be afraid, ever. Video's a poor excuse. But it helps me remember... and I need to remember... Sometimes there's so much beauty in the world I feel like I can't take it, like my heart's going to cave in.”

With that I’d like to say Happy Birthday to this poet, whose date of birth was on February 22, 1892 … Happy Birthday, Edna St. Vincent Millay. We'll see you on the other side.


Poetic Parameters:

Rhyme Scheme: abbccaa (per stanza)

Meter: Mixed- Lines 1 and 4 through 7 are done in pentameter (i.e. five metric feet), while lines 2 and 3 consist of three metric feet (or trimeter)

Stanza: Septet (i.e. 7 lines)


Nancy said...

Thank you so much for sharing this, John. It is a beautiful and passionate poem that stirs at the soul. I LOVE it! And your commentary reminds me of why you are so dear to me ... "it's everywhere, crushing in all around me " ... it sits perpetually by just waiting for me to pause and acknowledge it" ... "the force of a sacred deluge" ... you continue to amaze and impress me. I could literally cite each and every line as a profound quote. You are a true gift to all who know you, and someday to the world (I hope) through your poems and observations.

John W. May said...


The lines next to the closing of Rilke’s The Ninth Elegy also convey this feeling:

Earth, dear one, I will! Oh, believe it needs
not one more of your springtimes to win me over.
One, just one, is already too much for my blood.
From afar I'm utterly determined to be yours.

Ramona McKean said...

Truly beautiful and so well expressed! Thank you. :-)

As of April 9th, 2010