By Edna St Vincent Millay

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.

Summary of Renascence

  • Popularity of “Renascence”: Written by the renowned figure of the Roaring Twenties, Edna St. Vincent Millay composed this poem “Renascence” in 1917 and published it in the same year in the collection, Renascence and Other Poems. Although she just passed her teen when she published this poem, still it hit the minds of the readers like none of the poems in her collection. In fact, its presentation of human status, suffering, time, birth, death, and human identity is so powerful and touching that the poem has won popularity among the best religious poems of that period.
  • “Renascence” As a Representative of Spirituality: Leaving aside the place, location, or event when Anne Bradstreet composed the poem, she presents a speaker, as is the convention in religious poems. This first-person speaker narrates her ordeal that she could see “three long mountains and a wood” and tried to touch the sky, and she did, which made her swoon with success. When she did this, it seemed to her that Infinity had come down to her until she felt the immensity of the universe, and she started floating like an ethereal creature. She suddenly remembered her sinning, her own situation, and her identity and watched people dying en masse at which pity welled up in her heart.
    However, she also felt like going down to her grave and heard the rain falling and making melodious sounds. When she tried to inquire about her situation, even winds started responding until she came to feel “I know not how such things can be” but interestingly, it was happening to her. She almost went mad with this spiritual experience and came to the conclusion that when the soul of a person becomes pliable, the whole world bends on its knees before it.
  • Major Themes in “Renascence”: Spiritual experience, death, life, faith, and rebirth are some of the major thematic strands of the poem “Renascence.” Edna St. Vincent Millay beautifully explores the theme of spirituality, showing that when she desires to touch the sky, it comes down on her, making her feel as if it is quite near her. The same goes for death as the earth takes her down, and she can experience everything, including the sound of the rain and wind. In fact, this is her faith in God that makes her experience such things as she states “God, I can push the grass apart” even when she is dead. That is why she has full faith in her soul, and she asserts that such a good soul can split the sky to see the shining face of God. Also, her faith in God is so strong that she believes in rebirth and knows that she has her own life as she knows “who has been dead, … lives again.”

Analysis of Literary Devices Used in Renascence

Edna St Vincent Millay used various literary devices to enhance the intended impact of her poem. Some of the major literary devices she has used in this poem are as follows.

  1. Allusion: It means the use of references of historical, literary, or religious importance to stress the main idea. The poem shows the use of religious allusions, such as God, Capri, Eternity, and Infinity.
  2. Assonance: Assonance is the repetition of vowel sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /a/ in “My breath came short, and scarce at all” and the sound of /o/ in “Was three long mountains and a wood.”
  3. Alliteration: Alliteration is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line in quick succession, such as the sound of /s/ in “shrinking sight” or /m/ in “made manifold” or /w/ in “word whose” or again /w/ in “wild wind’s whistling.”
  4. Consonance: Consonance is the repetition of consonant sounds in the same line, such as the sound of /m/ in “Washing my grave away from me” and the sound of /g/ in “Like one gone mad I hugged the ground.”
  5. Enjambment: It is defined as a thought in verse that does not come to an end at a line break; rather, it rolls over to the next line. For example;

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!

  1. Imagery: Imagery is used to make readers perceive things involving their five senses. Edna St Vincent Millay used imagery in this poem such as “Sent instant tears into my eyes”, “Thou canst not move across the grass” and “Nor speak, however silently.”
  2. Metaphor: It is a figure of speech in which an implied comparison is made between objects that are different in nature. The poet used several metaphors, such as Infinity, Eternity, Earth, Sun, and even soul.
  3. Personification: It is the attribution of human emotions or traits to other things, such as the poet mentioning the world standing out, wind that whistles, or clouds that seem startled.
  4. Simile: It is a direct comparison of things to show their relation or clarify the meanings of the one thing being compared. The poem used several similes, such as the poet hearing the sound like that of some “joyous elf.” She has likened the sound to that of some elfish sound. She has also used some other similes such as “pity like the pity of God” or “spirit, like a bird”, or “like music down the vibrant song” or “like one gone mad I hugged the ground.”
  5. Symbolism: Symbolism is using symbols to signify ideas and qualities, giving them symbolic meanings that are different from the literal meanings. The poem shows symbols such as the sky, light, identity, grave, earth, and other heavenly bodies to show her spiritual experience.

Analysis of Poetic Devices Used in Renascence

Poetic and literary devices are the same, but a few are used only in poetry. Here is an analysis of some of the poetic devices used in this poem.

  1. Diction: It means the type of language. The poem shows religious, formal, and poetic diction.
  2. End Rhyme: End rhyme is used to make the stanza melodious. Edna St Vincent Millay has used end rhyme in this poem. For example, be/me, clings/things, and elf/himself.
  3. Repetition: It is a device in which some words or phrases are used repeatedly to stress the main point. The poem shows the repetition of several verses and phrases, such as “Where three long mountains and a wood” or
  4. Rhyme Scheme: The poem follows an AABB rhyme scheme, and this pattern continues until the end.
  5. Stanza: A stanza is a poetic form of some lines. There are 21 stanzas in this poem, with each comprising a different number of verses.

Quotes to be Used

The following lines are useful for parents to quote when narrating the experience of drenching in the rain and enjoying it.

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.