(1917) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
All I could see from where I stood Was three long mountains and a wood; I turned and looked the other 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, thatchèd 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 under ground; 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 sealèd 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.