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God's World

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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,óLord, I do fear
Thou'st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,ólet fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.

--- 1917

 



"God's World" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:
Overwhelmed by the Magnificence of the World

Reading the poem, "God's World," you might almost think that the speaker is addressing a loved one. But, in fact, she's describing a state of extreme enthusiasm inspired by the magnificence of nature, coupled with a fear of being overwhelmed by her feelings. She addresses her words first to the world, which is the object of her emotion, and then to God, saying that the emotion she is experiencing already "stretcheth me apart," and pleading with God not to intensify it further.

But what has inspired the speaker's experience of awe and enthusiasm isn't the idyllic beauty of nature. There are no daffodils here, as in one of the Wordsworth poems included on this site. In fact, the nature she describes has a quality that is gothic, primeval, inhuman and almost threatening. It is full of power and mystery, with grey skies, mists, a gaunt crag, and woods that ache and sag and "all but cry with colour."

The poem masterfully expresses this hard-edged, wild and unkempt quality in it's form. The fourth through the seventh lines are particularly noteworthy for the way the rhymes are part of a dense thicket of sounds in which "th," "a," "c" and "b" are repeated at the beginning of words. At the same time, the meter is full of stressed syllables that slow us down as we read, and then release us in the remaining part of the seventh line when there is a passionate expression of love for the world:

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!

Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem expresses a state of mind that people sometimes have of being overwhelmed by the magnificence of nature. But it also makes it possible for readers to vicariously experience this state of mind with the speaker, and perhaps to identify it in their own experience. Like all nature poetry, it blends together information about both nature and ourselves to give the reader an experience that is about both.

"God's World" is in striking contrast to the disturbing poem, "Spring," also by Edna St. Vincent Millay, which expresses a very different state of mind and perception of existence.

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There is more about this poem in the commentary on "Composed Upon Westminster Bridge" by Wordsworth.

-- Ken Sanes

Off site: Poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay


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