All I could see from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood; I turned and looked another way, And saw three islands in a bay. So with my eyes I traced the line Of the horizon, thin and fine, Straight around till I was come Back to where I'd started from; And all I saw from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood. Over these things I could not see; These were the things that bounded me; And I could touch them with my hand, Almost, I thought, from where I stand. And all at once things seemed so small My breath came short, and scarce at all. But, sure, the sky is big, I said; Miles and miles above my head; So here upon my back I'll lie And look my fill into the sky. And so I looked, and, after all, The sky was not so very tall. The sky, I said, must somewhere stop, And -- sure enough! -- I see the top! The sky, I thought, is not so grand; I 'most could touch it with my hand! And reaching up my hand to try, I screamed to feel it touch the sky. I screamed, and -- lo! -- Infinity Came down and settled over me; Forced back my scream into my chest, Bent back my arm upon my breast, And, pressing of the Undefined The definition on my mind, Held up before my eyes a glass Through which my shrinking sight did pass Until it seemed I must behold Immensity made manifold; Whispered to me a word whose sound Deafened the air for worlds around, And brought unmuffled to my ears The gossiping of friendly spheres, The creaking of the tented sky, The ticking of Eternity. I saw and heard, and knew at last The How and Why of all things, past, And present, and forevermore. The Universe, cleft to the core, Lay open to my probing sense That, sick'ning, I would fain pluck thence But could not, -- nay! But needs must suck At the great wound, and could not pluck My lips away till I had drawn All venom out. -- Ah, fearful pawn! For my omniscience paid I toll In infinite remorse of soul. All sin was of my sinning, all Atoning mine, and mine the gall Of all regret. Mine was the weight Of every brooded wrong, the hate That stood behind each envious thrust, Mine every greed, mine every lust. And all the while for every grief, Each suffering, I craved relief With individual desire, -- Craved all in vain! And felt fierce fire About a thousand people crawl; Perished with each, -- then mourned for all! A man was starving in Capri; He moved his eyes and looked at me; I felt his gaze, I heard his moan, And knew his hunger as my own. I saw at sea a great fog bank Between two ships that struck and sank; A thousand screams the heavens smote; And every scream tore through my throat. No hurt I did not feel, no death That was not mine; mine each last breath That, crying, met an answering cry From the compassion that was I. All suffering mine, and mine its rod; Mine, pity like the pity of God. Ah, awful weight! Infinity Pressed down upon the finite Me! My anguished spirit, like a bird, Beating against my lips I heard; Yet lay the weight so close about There was no room for it without. And so beneath the weight lay I And suffered death, but could not die. Long had I lain thus, craving death, When quietly the earth beneath Gave way, and inch by inch, so great At last had grown the crushing weight, Into the earth I sank till I Full six feet under ground did lie, And sank no more, -- there is no weight Can follow here, however great. From off my breast I felt it roll, And as it went my tortured soul Burst forth and fled in such a gust That all about me swirled the dust. Deep in the earth I rested now; Cool is its hand upon the brow And soft its breast beneath the head Of one who is so gladly dead. And all at once, and over all The pitying rain began to fall; I lay and heard each pattering hoof Upon my lowly, thatched roof, And seemed to love the sound far more Than ever I had done before. For rain it hath a friendly sound To one who's six feet underground; And scarce the friendly voice or face: A grave is such a quiet place. The rain, I said, is kind to come And speak to me in my new home. I would I were alive again To kiss the fingers of the rain, To drink into my eyes the shine Of every slanting silver line, To catch the freshened, fragrant breeze From drenched and dripping apple-trees. For soon the shower will be done, And then the broad face of the sun Will laugh above the rain-soaked earth Until the world with answering mirth Shakes joyously, and each round drop Rolls, twinkling, from its grass-blade top. How can I bear it; buried here, While overhead the sky grows clear And blue again after the storm? O, multi-colored, multiform, Beloved beauty over me, That I shall never, never see Again! Spring-silver, autumn-gold, That I shall never more behold! Sleeping your myriad magics through, Close-sepulchred away from you! O God, I cried, give me new birth, And put me back upon the earth! Upset each cloud's gigantic gourd And let the heavy rain, down-poured In one big torrent, set me free, Washing my grave away from me! I ceased; and through the breathless hush That answered me, the far-off rush Of herald wings came whispering Like music down the vibrant string Of my ascending prayer, and -- crash! Before the wild wind's whistling lash The startled storm-clouds reared on high And plunged in terror down the sky, And the big rain in one black wave Fell from the sky and struck my grave. I know not how such things can be; I only know there came to me A fragrance such as never clings To aught save happy living things; A sound as of some joyous elf Singing sweet songs to please himself, And, through and over everything, A sense of glad awakening. The grass, a-tiptoe at my ear, Whispering to me I could hear; I felt the rain's cool finger-tips Brushed tenderly across my lips, Laid gently on my sealed sight, And all at once the heavy night Fell from my eyes and I could see, -- A drenched and dripping apple-tree, A last long line of silver rain, A sky grown clear and blue again. And as I looked a quickening gust Of wind blew up to me and thrust Into my face a miracle Of orchard-breath, and with the smell, -- I know not how such things can be! -- I breathed my soul back into me. Ah! Up then from the ground sprang I And hailed the earth with such a cry As is not heard save from a man Who has been dead, and lives again. About the trees my arms I wound; Like one gone mad I hugged the ground; I raised my quivering arms on high; I laughed and laughed into the sky, Till at my throat a strangling sob Caught fiercely, and a great heart-throb Sent instant tears into my eyes; O God, I cried, no dark disguise Can e'er hereafter hide from me Thy radiant identity! Thou canst not move across the grass But my quick eyes will see Thee pass, Nor speak, however silently, But my hushed voice will answer Thee. I know the path that tells Thy way Through the cool eve of every day; God, I can push the grass apart And lay my finger on Thy heart! 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. But East and West will pinch the heart That can not keep them pushed apart; And he whose soul is flat -- the sky Will cave in on him by and by.
Edna St. Vincent Millay - 1892-1950
"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more! Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore! And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me, I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly That I might eat again, and met thy sneers With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,— Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away, As if spent passion were a holiday! And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow Of tardy kindness can avail thee now With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown; Lonely I came, and I depart alone, And know not where nor unto whom I go; But that thou canst not follow me I know." Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain My thought ran still, until I spake again: "Ah, but I go not as I came,—no trace Is mine to bear away of that old grace I brought! I have been heated in thy fires, Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires, Thy mark is on me! I am not the same Nor ever more shall be, as when I came. Ashes am I of all that once I seemed. In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed Is wakeful for alarm,—oh, shame to thee, For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me, Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing Ah, Life, I would have been a pleasant thing To have about the house when I was grown If thou hadst left my little joys alone! I asked of thee no favor save this one: That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun! And this thou didst deny, calling my name Insistently, until I rose and came. I saw the sun no more.—It were not well So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell, Need I arise to-morrow and renew Again my hated tasks, but I am through With all things save my thoughts and this one night, So that in truth I seem already quite Free,and remote from thee,—I feel no haste And no reluctance to depart; I taste Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught, That in a little while I shall have quaffed." Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled, Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed Before me one by one till once again I set new words unto an old refrain: "Treasures thou hast that never have been mine! Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown Like blossoms out to me that sat alone! And I have waited well for thee to show If any share were mine,—and now I go Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain I shall but come into mine own again!" Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more, But turning, straightway, sought a certain door In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low And dark,—a way by which none e'er would go That other exit had, and never knock Was heard thereat,—bearing a curious lock Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily, Whereof Life held content the useless key, And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust, Whose sudden voice across a silence must, I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,— A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.—So near I came I felt upon my feet the chill Of acid wind creeping across the sill. So stood longtime, till over me at last Came weariness, and all things other passed To make it room; the still night drifted deep Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep. But, suddenly, marking the morning hour, Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower! Startled, I raised my head,—and with a shout Laid hold upon the latch,—and was without. * * * * Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, Leading me back unto my old abode, My father's house! There in the night I came, And found them feasting, and all things the same As they had been before. A splendour hung Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung As, echoing out of very long ago, Had called me from the house of Life, I know. So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame On the unlovely garb in which I came; Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked: "It is my father's house!" I said and knocked; And the door opened. To the shining crowd Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud, Seeing no face but his; to him I crept, And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept. * * * * Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone I wandered through the house. My own, my own, My own to touch, my own to taste and smell, All I had lacked so long and loved so well! None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song, Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long. I know not when the wonder came to me Of what my father's business might be, And whither fared and on what errands bent The tall and gracious messengers he sent. Yet one day with no song from dawn till night Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight. And the next day I called; and on the third Asked them if I might go,—but no one heard. Then, sick with longing, I arose at last And went unto my father,—in that vast Chamber wherein he for so many years Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres. "Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play The harp that thou didst give me, and all day I sit in idleness, while to and fro About me thy serene, grave servants go; And I am weary of my lonely ease. Better a perilous journey overseas Away from thee, than this, the life I lead, To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed That grows to naught,—I love thee more than they Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way. Father, I beg of thee a little task To dignify my days,—'tis all I ask Forever, but forever, this denied, I perish." "Child," my father's voice replied, "All things thy fancy hath desired of me Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee Within my house a spacious chamber, where Are delicate things to handle and to wear, And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song? My minstrels shall attend thee all day long. Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand Open as fields to thee on every hand. And all thy days this word shall hold the same: No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. But as for tasks—" he smiled, and shook his head; "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.