49 Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892-1950

Forest Trees
Land of Romance
Song for Senior Parlor Opening, Vassar College, 1916
God's World
Afternoon on a Hill
Kin to Sorrow
When the Year Grows Old
     I-II. Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
     I-III. Mindful of you the sodden earth in spring
     I-V. If I should learn, in some quite casual way
Baccalaureate Hymn, Vassar College, 1917
City Trees
The Blue-Flag in the Bog
The Little Hill
Doubt no more that Oberon
The Death of Autumn
     II-VII. When I too long have looked upon your face
     II-V. Once more into my arid days like dew
Portrait By a Neighbor
To Kathleen
The Philosopher
My Heart, Being Hungry
Autumn Chant
Song I from the play "The Lamp and the Bell"
Song II from the play "The Lamp and the Bell"
The Spring and The Fall
The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver
Spring Song
     IV-I. When you, that at this moment are to me
     IV-VIII. Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
     IV-IX. Here is a wound that never will heal, I know
     IV-X. I shall go back again to the bleak shore
     IV-XVII. Loving you less than life, a little less
     IV-XIX. What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
     IV-XXI. How healthily their feet upon the floor
     IV-XXII Euclid Alone Has Looked
     V-VIII. One way there was of muting in the mind
     V-XI. It came into her mind, seeing how the snow

Forest Trees

(Her first published poem in St. Nicholas League Magazine, Vol. 33 in Oct. 1906 when Millay was 14 years old)

Monarchs of long forgotten realms, ye stand;
          Majestic, grand:
Unscarred by Time's destructive hand.
Enthroned on dais of velvet moss, inset
With the royal purple of the violet;
          And crowned with mistletoe.

How many ages o'er your head have flown,
          To you is known--
To you, ye forest-founders of the past, alone.
No other eyes may scan the breadth of years,
          Each with its share of peace, and joy, and tears;
                    Of happiness and woe.

Around you all is changed--and where now is land
Swift vessels ploughed to foam the seething main;
Kingdoms have risen; and the fire-fiend's hand
Has crushed them to their Mother Earth again;
And through it all ye stand, and still will stand
Till ages yet to come have owned your reign.

Land of Romance, St. Nicholas No. 34, March, 1907

"Show me the road to Romance!" I cried, and he raised his head;
"I know not the road to Romance, child. 'Tis a warm, bright way," he said,
"And I trod it once with one whom I loved,--with one who is long since dead.
But now--I forget,--Ah! The way would be long without that other one,"
And he lifted a thin and trembling hand, to sheild his eyes from the sun.

"Show me the road to Romance!" I cried, but she did not stir,
And I heard no sound in the low ceil'ed room save the spinning-wheel's busy whirr.
Then came a voice from the down-bent head, from the lips that I could not see,
"Oh! Why do you seek for Romance? And why do you trouble me?
Little care I for your fancies. They will bring you no good," she said,
"Take the wheel that stands in the corner, and get you to work, instead."

Then came one with steps so light that I had not heard their tread,
"I know where the road to Romance is. I will show it you," she said.
She slipped her tiny hand in mine, and smiled up into my face,
And lo! A ray of the setting sun shone full upon the place,
The little brook danced adown the hill and the grass sprang up anew,
And tiny flowers peeped forth as fresh as if newly washed with dew.

A little breeze came frolicking by, cooling the heated air,
And the road to Romance stretched on before, beckoning, bright and fair.
And I knew that just beyond it, in the hush of the dying day,
The mossy walls and ivied towers of the land of Romance lay.
The breath of dying lilies haunted the twilight air,
And the sob of a dreaming violin filled the silence everywhere.

Song for Senior Parlor Opening, Oct. 1916 (Vassar College)

What though the wind, a summer wind no more,
Blow loud, blow high, blow leaves across the floor?
Grieve not the heart for things too sweet to stay,--
Summer was here a while before she went away!

Come then and sing while still our hearts are young;
Draw near and sing till all our songs are sung;
We shall remember,--we shall love to say,
"Summer was here a while before she went away!"

from Renascence, 1917


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.

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.

Afternoon on a Hill

I will be the gladdest thing
Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
And then start down!


I'll keep a little tavern
Below the high hill's crest,
Wherein all grey-eyed people
May set them down and rest.
There shall be plates a-plenty,
And mugs to melt the chill
Of all the grey-eyed people
Who happen up the hill.
There sound will sleep the traveller,
And dream his journey's end,
But I will rouse at midnight
The falling fire to tend.
Aye, 'tis a curious fancy--
But all the good I know
Was taught me out of two grey eyes
A long time ago.

Kin to Sorrow

Am I kin to Sorrow,
That so oft
Falls the knocker of my door--
Neither loud nor soft,
But as long accustomed,
Under Sorrow's hand?
Marigolds around the step
And rosemary stand,
And then comes Sorrow--
And what does Sorrow care
For the rosemary
Or the marigolds there?
Am I kin to Sorrow?
Are we kin?
That so oft upon my door--
Oh, come in!


Hard seeds of hate I planted
      That should by now be grown,--
Rough stalks, and from thick stamens
      A poisonous pollen blown,
And odors rank, unbreathable,
      From dark corollas thrown!

At dawn from my damp garden
      I shook the chilly dew;
The thin boughs locked behind me
      That sprang to let me through;
The blossoms slept,--I sought a place
      Where nothing lovely grew.

And there, when day was breaking,
      I knelt and looked around:
The light was near, the silence
      Was palpitant with sound;
I drew my hate from out my breast
      And thrust it in the ground.

Oh, ye so fiercely tended,
      Ye little seeds of hate!
I bent above your growing
      Early and noon and late,
Yet are ye drooped and pitiful,--
      I cannot rear ye straight!

The sun seeks out my garden,
      No nook is left in shade,
No mist nor mold nor mildew
      Endures on any blade,
Sweet rain slants under every bough:
      Ye falter, and ye fade.

When the Year Grows Old

I cannot but remember
When the year grows old--
How she disliked the cold!

She used to watch the swallows
Go down across the sky,
And turn from the window
With a little sharp sigh.

And often when the brown leaves
Were brittle on the ground,
And the wind in the chimney
Made a melancholy sound,

She had a look about her
That I wish I could forget--
The look of a scared thing
Sitting in a net!

Oh, beautiful at nightfall
The soft spitting snow!
And beautiful the bare boughs
Rubbing to and fro!

But the roaring of the fire,
And the warmth of fur,
And the boiling of the kettle
Were beautiful to her!

I cannot but remember
When the year grows old--
How she disliked the cold!

Sonnet I-II.

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide!
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,-- so with his memory they brim!
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, "There is no memory of him here!"
And so stand stricken, so remembering him!

Sonnet I-III.

Mindful of you the sodden earth in spring,
And all the flowers that in the springtime grow,
And dusty roads, and thistles, and the slow
Rising of the round moon, all throats that sing
The summer through, and each departing wing,
And all the nests that the bared branches show,
And all winds that in any weather blow,
And all the storms that the four seasons bring.
You go no more on your exultant feet
Up paths that only mist and morning knew,
Or watch the wind, or listen to the beat
Of a bird's wings too high in air to view,--
But you were something more than young and sweet
And fair,--and the long year remembers you.

Sonnet I-V.

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
      That you were gone, not to return again--
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
      Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
      And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man--who happened to be you--
      At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud--I could not cry
      Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place--
I should but watch the station lights rush by
      With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
      Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.


Baccalaureate Hymn
(Vassar College, 1917)

Thou great offended God of love and kindness,
      We have denied, we have forgotten Thee!
With deafer sense endow, enlighten us with blindness,
      Who, having ears and eyes, nor hear nor see,

Bright are the banners on the tents of laughter;
      Shunned is Thy temple, weeds are on the path;
Yet if Thou leave us, Lord, what help is ours thereafter?--
      Be with us still,--Light not today Thy wrath!

Dark were the ways where of ourselves we sought Thee,
      Anguish, Derision, Doubt, Desire and Mirth;
Twisted, obscure, unlovely, Lord, the gifts we brought Thee,
      Teach us what ways have light, what gifts have worth.

Since we are dust, how shall we not betray Thee?
      Still blows about the world the ancient wind--
Nor yet for lives untried and tearless would we pray Thee:
      Lord let us suffer that we may grow kind!

"Lord, Lord!" we cried of old, who now before Thee,
      Stricken with prayer, shaken with praise, are dumb;
Father, accept our worship when we least adore Thee,
      And when we call Thee not, oh, hear and come!


from Second April, 1921

City Trees

The trees along this city street,
      Save for the traffic and the trains,
Would make a sound as thin and sweet
      As trees in country lanes.

And people standing in their shade
      Out of a shower, undoubtedly
Would hear such music as is made
      Upon a country tree.

Oh, little leaves that are so dumb
      Against the shrieking city air,
I watch you when the wind has come,--
      I know what sound is there.

The Blue-Flag in the Bog

God had called us, and we came;
     Our loved Earth to ashes left;
Heaven was a neighbor's house,
     Open to us, bereft.

Gay the lights of Heaven showed,
     And 'twas God who walked ahead;
Yet I wept along the road,
     Wanting my own house instead.

Wept unseen, unheeded cried,
     "All you things my eyes have kissed,
Fare you well! We meet no more,
     Lovely, lovely tattered mist!

Weary wings that rise and fall
     All day long above the fire!"--
Red with heat was every wall,
     Rough with heat was every wire--

"Fare you well, you little winds
     That the flying embers chase!
Fare you well, you shuddering day,
     With your hands before your face!

And, ah, blackened by strange blight,
     Or to a false sun unfurled,
Now forevermore goodbye,
     All the gardens in the world!

On the windless hills of Heaven,
     That I have no wish to see,
White, eternal lilies stand,
     By a lake of ebony.

But the Earth forevermore
     Is a place where nothing grows,--
Dawn will come, and no bud break;
     Evening, and no blossom close.

Spring will come, and wander slow
     Over an indifferent land,
Stand beside an empty creek,
     Hold a dead seed in her hand."

God had called us, and we came,
     But the blessed road I trod
Was a bitter road to me,
     And at heart I questioned God.

"Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
     That the heart would most desire,
Held Earth naught save souls of sinners
     Worth the saving from a fire?

Withered grass,--the wasted growing!
     Aimless ache of laden boughs!"
Little things God had forgotten
     Called me, from my burning house.

"Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
     That the eye could ask to see,
All the things I ever knew
     Are this blaze in back of me."

"Though in Heaven," I said, "be all
     That the ear could think to lack,
All the things I ever knew
     Are this roaring at my back."

It was God who walked ahead,
     Like a shepherd to the fold;
In his footsteps fared the weak,
     And the weary and the old,

Glad enough of gladness over,
     Ready for the peace to be,--
But a thing God had forgotten
     Was the growing bones of me.

And I drew a bit apart,
     And I lagged a bit behind,
And I thought on Peace Eternal,
     Lest He look into my mind:

And I gazed upon the sky,
     And I thought of Heavenly Rest,--
And I slipped away like water
     Through the fingers of the blest!

All their eyes were fixed on Glory,
     Not a glance brushed over me;
"Alleluia! Alleluia!"
     Up the road,--and I was free.

And my heart rose like a freshet,
     And it swept me on before,
Giddy as a whirling stick,
     Till I felt the earth once more.

All the earth was charred and black,
     Fire had swept from pole to pole;
And the bottom of the sea
     Was as brittle as a bowl;

And the timbered mountain-top
     Was as naked as a skull,--
Nothing left, nothing left,
     Of the Earth so beautiful!

"Earth," I said, "how can I leave you?"
     "You are all I have," I said;
"What is left to take my mind up,
     Living always, and you dead?"

"Speak!" I said, "Oh, tell me something!
     Make a sign that I can see!
For a keepsake! To keep always!
     Quick!--before God misses me!"

And I listened for a voice;--
     But my heart was all I heard;
Not a screech-owl, not a loon,
     Not a tree-toad said a word.

And I waited for a sign;--
     Coals and cinders, nothing more;
And a little cloud of smoke
     Floating on a valley floor.

And I peered into the smoke
     Till it rotted, like a fog:--
There, encompassed round by fire,
     Stood a blue-flag in a bog!

Little flames came wading out,
     Straining, straining towards its stem,
But it was so blue and tall
     That it scorned to think of them!

Red and thirsty were their tongues,
     As the tongues of wolves must be,
But it was so blue and tall--
     Oh, I laughed, I cried, to see!

All my heart became a tear,
     All my soul became a tower,
Never loved I anything
     As I loved that tall blue flower!

It was all the little boats
     That had ever sailed the sea,
It was all the little books
     That had gone to school with me;

On its roots like iron claws
     Rearing up so blue and tall,--
It was all the gallant Earth
     With its back against a wall!

In a breath, ere I had breathed,--
     Oh, I laughed, I cried, to see!--
I was kneeling at its side,
     And it leaned its head on me!

Crumbling stones and sliding sand
     Is the road to Heaven now;
Icy at my straining knees
     Drags the awful under-tow;

Soon but stepping-stones of dust
     Will the road to Heaven be,--
Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
     Reach a hand and rescue me!

"There--there, my blue-flag flower;
     Hush--hush--go to sleep;
That is only God you hear,
     Counting up His folded sheep!

     That is only God that calls,
Missing me, seeking me,
     Ere the road to nothing falls!

He will set His mighty feet
     Firmly on the sliding sand;
Like a little frightened bird
     I will creep into His hand;

I will tell Him all my grief,
     I will tell Him all my sin;
He will give me half His robe
     For a cloak to wrap you in.

     Rocks the burnt-out planet free!--
Father, Son and Holy Ghost,
     Reach a hand and rescue me!

Ah, the voice of love at last!
     Lo, at last the face of light!
And the whole of His white robe
     For a cloak against the night!

And upon my heart asleep
     All the things I ever knew!--
"Holds Heaven not some cranny, Lord,
     For a flower so tall and blue?"

All's well and all's well!
     Gay the lights of Heaven show!
In some moist and Heavenly place
     We will set it out to grow.


Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me--I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
                        Yet onward!
                                    Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
Dim, shady wood-roads, redolent of fern
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,--sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs--
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road;
A gateless garden, and an open path;
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.


If it were only still!--
With far away the shrill
Crying of a cock;
Or the shaken bell
From a cow's throat
Moving through the bushes;
Or the soft shock
Of wizened apples falling
From an old tree
In a forgotten orchard
Upon the hilly rock!

Oh, grey hill,
Where the grazing herd
Licks the purple blossom,
Crops the spiky weed!
Oh, stony pasture,
Where the tall mullein
Stands up so sturdy
On its little seed!



I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.


I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!


The railroad track is miles away,
      And the day is loud with voices speaking,
Yet there isn't a train goes by all day
      But I hear its whistle shrieking.

All night there isn't a train goes by,
      Though the night is still for sleep and dreaming
But I see its cinders red on the sky,
      And hear its engine steaming.

My heart is warm with the friends I make,
      And better friends I'll not be knowing,
Yet there isn't a train I wouldn't take,
      No matter where it's going.


For the sake of some things
     That be now no more
I will strew rushes
     On my chamber-floor,
I will plant bergamot
     At my kitchen-door.

For the sake of dim things
     That were once so plain
I will set a barrel
     Out to catch the rain,
I will hang an iron pot
     On an iron crane.

Many things be dead and gone
     That were brave and gay;
For the sake of these things
     I will learn to say,
"An it please you, gentle sirs,"
     "Alack!" and "Well-a-day!"


Oh, come again to Astolat!
      I will not ask you to be kind.
And you may go when you will go,
      And I will stay behind.

I will not say how dear you are,
      Or ask you if you hold me dear,
Or trouble you with things for you
      The way I did last year.

So still the orchard, Lancelot,
      So very still the lake shall be,
You could not guess--though you should guess--
      What is become of me.

So wide shall be the garden-walk,
      The garden-seat so very wide,
You needs must think--if you should think--
      The lily maid had died.

Save that, a little way away,
      I'd watch you for a little while,
To see you speak, the way you speak,
      And smile, --  if you should smile.

The Little Hill

Oh, here the air is sweet and still,
      And soft's the grass to lie on;
And far away's the little hill
      They took for Christ to die on.

And there's a hill across the brook,
      And down the brook's another;
But, oh, the little hill they took,--
      I think I am its mother!

The moon that saw Gethsemane,
      I watch it rise and set:
It has so many things to see,
      They help it to forget.

But little hills that sit at home
      So many hundred years,
Remember Greece, remember Rome,
      Remember Mary's tears.

And far away in Palestine,
      Sadder than any other,
Grieves still the hill that I call mine,--
      I think I am its mother!

Doubt no more that Oberon

Doubt no more that Oberon--
Never doubt that Pan
Lived, and played a reed, and ran
After nymphs in a dark forest,
In the merry, credulous days,--
Lived, and led a fairy band
Over the indulgent land!
Ah, for in this dourest, sorest
Age man's eye has looked upon,
Death to fauns and death to fays,
Still the dog-wood dares to raise--
Healthy tree, with trunk and root--
Ivory bowls that bear no fruit,
And the starlings and the jays--
Birds that cannot even sing--
Dare to come again in spring!


Searching my heart for its true sorrow,
      This is the thing I find to be:
That I am weary of words and people,
      Sick of the city, wanting the sea;

Wanting the sticky, salty sweetness
      Of the strong wind and shattered spray;
Wanting the loud sound and the soft sound
      Of the big surf that breaks all day.

Always before about my dooryard,
      Marking the reach of the winter sea,
Rooted in sand and dragging drift-wood,
      Straggled the purple wild sweet-pea;

Always I climbed the wave at morning,
      Shook the sand from my shoes at night,
That now am caught beneath great buildings,
      Stricken with noise, confused with light.

If I could hear the green piles groaning
      Under the windy wooden piers,
See once again the bobbing barrels,
      And the black sticks that fence the weirs,

If I could see the weedy mussels
      Crusting the wrecked and rotting hulls,
Hear once again the hungry crying
      Overhead, of the wheeling gulls,

Feel once again the shanty straining
      Under the turning of the tide,
Fear once again the rising freshet,
      Dread the bell in the fog outside,-- 

I should be happy,--that was happy
      All day long on the coast of Maine!
I have a need to hold and handle
      Shells and anchors and ships again!

I should be happy, that am happy
      Never at all since I came here.
I am too long away from water.
      I have a need of water near.

The Death of Autumn

When reeds are dead and a straw to thatch the marshes,
And feathered pampas-grass rides into the wind
Like aged warriors westward, tragic, thinned
Of half their tribe, and over the flattened rushes,
Stripped of its secret, open, stark and bleak,
Blackens afar the half-forgotten creek,--
Then leans on me the weight of the year, and crushes
My heart. I know that Beauty must ail and die,
And will be born again,--but ah, to see
Beauty stiffened, staring up at the sky!
Oh, Autumn! Autumn!--What is the Spring to me?

Sonnet II-VII.:

When I too long have looked upon your face,
Wherein for me a brightness unobscured
Save by the mists of brightness has its place,
And terrible beauty not to be endured,
I turn away reluctant from your light,
And stand irresolute, a mind undone,
A silly, dazzled thing deprived of sight
From having looked too long upon the sun.
Then is my daily life a narrow room
In which a little while, uncertainly,
Surrounded by impenetrable gloom,
Among familiar things grown strange to me
Making my way, I pause, and feel, and hark,
Till I become accustomed to the dark.

Sonnet II-V.

Once more into my arid days like dew,
Like wind from an oasis, or the sound
Of cold sweet water bubbling underground,
A treacherous messenger, the thought of you
Comes to destroy me; once more I renew
Firm faith in your abundance, whom I found
Long since to be but just one other mound
Of sand, whereon no green thing ever grew.
And once again, and wiser in no wise,
I chase your colored phantom on the air,
And sob and curse and fall and weep and rise
And stumble pitifully on to where,
Miserable and lost, with stinging eyes,
Once more I clasp, --and there is nothing there.


from A Few Figs From Thistles, 1922

Portrait By a Neighbor

Before she has her floor swept
      Or her dishes done,
Any day you'll find her
      A-sunning in the sun!

It's long after midnight
      Her key's in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
      Till past ten o'clock!

She digs in her garden
      With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
      By the light of the moon.

She walks up the walk
      Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
      And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
      And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
      And the Queen Anne's lace!

To Kathleen

Still must the poet as of old,
In barren attic bleak and cold,
Starve, freeze, and fashion verses to
Such things as flowers and song and you;

Still as of old his being give
In Beauty's name, while she may live,
Beauty that may not die as long
As there are flowers and you and song.

The Philosopher

And what are you that, missing you,
      I should be kept awake
As many nights as there are days
      With weeping for your sake?

And what are you that, missing you,
      As many days as crawl
I should be listening to the wind
      And looking at the wall?

I know a man that's a braver man
      And twenty men as kind,
And what are you, that you should be
      The one man in my mind?

Yet women's ways are witless ways,
      As any sage will tell,--
And what am I, that I should love
      So wisely and so well?


from The Harp Weaver and Other Poems, 1922
(Pulitzer Prize, 1923)

My Heart, Being Hungry

My heart, being hungry, feeds on food
     The fat of heart despise.
Beauty where beauty never stood,
     And sweet where no sweet lies
I gather to my querulous need,
Having a growing heart to feed.

It may be, when my heart is dull,
     Having attained its girth,
I shall not find so beautiful
     The meagre shapes of earth,
Nor linger in the rain to mark
The smell of tansy through the dark.

Autumn Chant

Now the autumn shudders
In the rose's root.
Far and wide the ladders
Lean among the fruit.

Now the autumn clambers
Up the trellised frame,
And the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.

Brighter than the blossom
On the rose's bough
Sits the wizened, orange,
Bitter berry now;

Beauty never slumbers;
All is in her name;
But the rose remembers
The dust from which it came.

Song I from the play "The Lamp and the Bell"

Oh, little rose tree, bloom!
Summer is nearly over.
The dahlias bleed, and the phlox is seed.
Nothing's left of the clover.
And the path of the poppy no one knows.
I would blossom if I were a rose.

Summer, for all your guile,
Will brown in a week to Autumn,
And launched leaves throw a shadow below
Over the brook's clear bottom,--
And the chariest bud the year can boast
Be brought to bloom by the chastening frost.

Song II from the play "The Lamp and the Bell"

Beat me a crown of bluer metal;
Fret it with stones of a foreign style:
The heart grows weary after a little
Of what it loved for a little while.

Weave me a robe of richer fibre;
Pattern its web with a rare device.
Give away to the child of a neighbor
This gold gown I was glad in twice.

But buy me a singer to sing one song--
Song about nothing--song about sheep--
Over and over, all day long.
Patch me again my thread-bare sleep.


It's little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it's little I care;
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere.

It's little I know what's in my heart,
What's in my mind it's little I know,
But there's that in me must up and start,
And it's little I care where my feet go.

I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Nor the roof of a house, nor the eyes of a face.

I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.

But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it's little enough I care:
And it's little I'd mind the fuss they'll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.

      "Is something the matter, dear," she said,
     "That you sit at your work so silently?"
     "No, mother, no, 'twas a knot in my thread.
     There goes the kettle, I'll make the tea."

The Spring and the Fall

In the spring of the year, in the spring of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The trees were black where the bark was wet.
I see them yet, in the spring of the year.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.

In the fall of the year, in the fall of the year,
I walked the road beside my dear.
The rooks went up with a raucous trill.
I hear them still, in the fall of the year.
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.

Year be springing or year be falling,
The bark will drip and the birds be calling.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.

The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

"Son," said my mother,
      When I was knee-high,
"You've need of clothes to cover you,
      And not a rag have I.

"There's nothing in the house
      To make a boy breeches,
Nor shears to cut a cloth with
      Nor thread to take stitches.

"There's nothing in the house
      But a loaf-end of rye,
And a harp with a woman's head
      Nobody will buy,"
      And she began to cry.

That was in the early fall.
      When came the late fall,
"Son," she said, "the sight of you
      Makes your mother's blood crawl,--

"Little skinny shoulder-blades
      Sticking through your clothes!
And where you'll get a jacket from
      God above knows.

"It's lucky for me, lad,
      Your daddy's in the ground,
And can't see the way I let
      His son go around!"
      And she made a queer sound.

That was in the late fall.
      When the winter came,
I'd not a pair of breeches
      Nor a shirt to my name.

I couldn't go to school,
      Or out of doors to play.
And all the other little boys
      Passed our way.

"Son," said my mother,
      "Come, climb into my lap,
And I'll chafe your little bones
      While you take a nap."

And, oh, but we were silly
      For half an hour or more,
Me with my long legs
      Dragging on the floor,

      To a mother-goose rhyme!
Oh, but we were happy
      For half an hour's time!

But there was I, a great boy,
      And what would folks say
To hear my mother singing me
      To sleep all day,
      In such a daft way?

Men say the winter
      Was bad that year;
Fuel was scarce,
      And food was dear.

A wind with a wolf's head
      Howled about our door,
And we burned up the chairs
      And sat upon the floor.

All that was left us
      Was a chair we couldn't break,
And the harp with a woman's head
      Nobody would take,
      For song or pity's sake.

The night before Christmas
      I cried with the cold,
I cried myself to sleep
      Like a two-year-old.

And in the deep night
      I felt my mother rise,
And stare down upon me
      With love in her eyes.

I saw my mother sitting
      On the one good chair,
A light falling on her
      From I couldn't tell where,

Looking nineteen,
      And not a day older,
And the harp with a woman's head
      Leaned against her shoulder.

Her thin fingers, moving
      In the thin, tall strings,
Were weav-weav-weaving
      Wonderful things.

Many bright threads,
      From where I couldn't see,
Were running through the harp-strings

And gold threads whistling
      Through my mother's hand.
I saw the web grow,
      And the pattern expand.

She wove a child's jacket,
      And when it was done
She laid it on the floor
      And wove another one.

She wove a red cloak
      So regal to see,
"She's made it for a king's son,"
      I said, "and not for me."
      But I knew it was for me.

She wove a pair of breeches
      Quicker than that!
She wove a pair of boots
      And a little cocked hat.

She wove a pair of mittens,
      She wove a little blouse,
She wove all night
      In the still, cold house.

She sang as she worked,
      And the harp-strings spoke;
Her voice never faltered,
      And the thread never broke.
      And when I awoke,--

There sat my mother
      With the harp against her shoulder
Looking nineteen
      And not a day older,

A smile about her lips,
      And a light about her head,
And her hands in the harp-strings
      Frozen dead.

And piled up beside her
      And toppling to the skies,
Were the clothes of a king's son,
      Just my size.

Spring Song

I know why the yellow forsythia
Holds its breath and will not bloom,
And the robin thrusts his beak in his wing.

Want me to tell you?  Think you can bear it?
Cover your eyes with your hand and hear it.
You know how cold the days are still? 
And everybody saying how late the Spring is?
Well---cover your eyes with your hand--  the thing is,
There isn't going to be any Spring.

No parking here!   No parking here!
They said to Spring:  No parking here!

Spring came on as she always does,
Laid her hand on the yellow forsythia,--
Little boys turned in their sleep and smiled,
Dreaming of marbles, dreaming of agates;
Little girls leapt from their bed to see
Spring come by with her painted wagons,
Coloured wagons creaking with wonder--
Laid her hand on the robin's throat;
When up comes you-know-who, my dear,
You-know-who in a fine blue coat,
And says to Spring:  No parking here!

No parking here!   No parking here!
Move on!  Move on!  No parking here!

Come walk with me in the city gardens.
(Better keep an eye out for you-know-who)

Did you ever see such a sickly showing?--
Middle of June, and nothing growing;
The gardeners peer and scratch their heads
And drop their sweat on the tulip-beds,
But not a blade thrusts through.

Come, move on!  Don't you know how to walk?
No parking here!   And no back-talk!

Oh, well,--- hell, it's all for the best.
She certainly made a lot of clutter,
Dropping petals under the trees,
Taking your mind off your bread and butter.
Anyhow, it's nothing to me.
I can remember, and so can you.
(Though we'd better watch out for you-know-who,
When we sit around remembering Spring).

We shall hardly notice in a year or two.
You can get accustomed to anything.

Sonnet IV-I.

When you, that at this moment are to me
Dearer than words on paper, shall depart,
And be no more the warder of my heart,
Whereof again myself shall hold the key;
And be no more, what now you seem to be,
The sun, from which all excellencies start
In a round nimbus, nor a broken dart
Of moonlight, even, splintered on the sea;

I shall remember only of this hour
And weep somewhat, as now you see me weep
The pathos of your love, that, like a flower,
Fearful of death yet amorous of sleep,
Droops for a moment and beholds, dismayed,
The wind whereon its petals shall be laid.

Sonnet IV-VIII.

Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!
Give me back my book and take my kiss instead.
Was it my enemy or my friend I heard,
"What a big book for such a little head!"
Come, I will show you now my newest hat,
And you may watch me purse my mouth and prink!
Oh, I shall love you still, and all of that.
I never again shall tell you what I think.
I shall be sweet and crafty, soft and sly;
You will not catch me reading any more:
I shall be called a wife to pattern by;
And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not too stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

Sonnet IV-IX.

Here is a wound that never will heal, I know
Being wrought not of a dearness and a death
But of a love turned ashes and the breath
Gone out of beauty; never again will grow
The grass on that scarred acre, though I sow
Young seed there yearly and the sky bequeath
Its friendly weathers down, far underneath
Shall be such bitterness of an old woe.
That April should be shattered by a gust,
That August should be leveled by a rain,
I can endure, and that the lifted dust
Of man should settle to the earth again;
But that a dream can die, will be a thrust
Between my ribs forever of hot pain.

Sonnet IV-X.

I shall go back again to the bleak shore
And build a little shanty on the sand
In such a way that the extremest band
Of brittle seaweed shall escape my door
But by a yard or two; and nevermore
Shall I return to take you by the hand.
I shall be gone to what I understand,
And happier than I ever was before.
The love that stood a moment in your eyes,
The words that lay a moment on your tongue,
Are one with all that in a moment dies,
A little under-said and over-sung.
But I shall find the sullen rocks and skies
Unchanged from what they were when I was young.

Sonnet IV-XVII.

Loving you less than life, a little less
Than bitter-sweet upon a broken wall
Or bush-wood smoke in autumn, I confess
I cannot swear I love you not at all.
For there is that about you in this light--
A yellow darkness, sinister of rain--
Which sturdily recalls my stubborn sight
To dwell on you, and dwell on you again.
And I am made aware of many a week
I shall consume, remembering in what way
Your brown hair grows about your brow and cheek,
And what divine absurdities you say:
Till all the world, and I, and surely you,
Will know I love you, whether or not I do.

Sonnet IV-XIX.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.

Sonnet IV-XXI.

How healthily their feet upon the floor
Strike down! These are no spirits, but a band
Of children, surely, leaping hand in hand
Into the air in groups of three and four,
Wearing their silken rags as if they wore
Leaves only and light grasses, or a strand
Of black elusive seaweed oozing sand,
And running hard as if along a shore.
I know how lost forever, and at length
How still these lovely tossing limbs shall lie,
And the bright laughter and the panting breath;
And yet, before such beauty and such strength,
Once more, as always when the dance is high,
I am rebuked that I believe in death.

Sonnet IV-XXII.

Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.

Sonnet V-VIII.
(from "Songs From an Ungrafted Tree")

One way there was of muting in the mind
A little while the ever-clamorous care;
And there was rapture, of a decent kind,
In making mean and ugly objects fair:
Soft-sooted kettle-bottoms, that had been
Time after time set in above the fire,
Faucets, and candlesticks, corroded green,
To mine again from quarry; to attire
The shelves in paper petticoats, and tack
New oilcloth in the ringed-and-rotten's place,
Polish the stove till you could see your face,
And after nightfall rear an aching back
In a changed kitchen, bright as a new pin,
An advertisement, far too fine to cook a supper in.

Sonnet V-XI.
(from "Songs From an Ungrafted Tree")

It came into her mind, seeing how the snow
Was gone, and the brown grass exposed again,
And clothespins, and an apron long ago,
In some white storm that sifted through the pane
And sent her forth reluctantly at last
To gather in, before the line gave way,
Garments, board stiff, that galloped on the blast
Clashing like angel armies in a fray,
An apron long ago in such a night
Blown down and buried in the deepening drift,
To lie till April thawed it back to sight,
Forgotten, quaint and novel as a gift--
It struck her, as she pulled and pried and tore,
That here was Spring, and the whole year to be lived through once more.

Poems selected by Lynn Bruce

AmblesideOnline's free Charlotte Mason homeschool curriculum prepares children for a life of rich relationships with God, humanity, and the natural world.
Share AO with your group or homeschool fair! Download our printable brochure