10 Spring-Themed Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay - young

This year, as spring approached I took on the perspective of Emily Dickinson and slowly, tentatively, began to believe that hope — “the thing with feathers, that perches in the soul” — is real and possible. The poet that I instinctively read, and read again, was Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 – 1950) and her observations on the spring season.

This bouquet of spring poetry that I culled from Millay’s poems seem to have a common thread: Millay is annoyed at spring’s exuberant beauty coming yearly, and becomes indifferent and slightly angry since nature’s exuberant beauty arrives when her heart is under torment once more and is experienced as something of an intrusion upon her grieving.

And yet, Millay loves spring, and, in a slightly dramatic fashion in her poem Assault,  she becomes overwhelmed at the breaking of winter’s silence by the sound of the frogs; she is “waylaid by beauty,” and can scarce continue her walk amongst such natural delights.

Millay consistently used nature in her poetry to express her emotional renderings. Whether in free verse, the lyric rhyme, or in the very formal rules of the sonnet, Millay challenges herself and her readers to experience spring’s beauty as solely impermanent; therefore, beware of taking too much pleasure in its transitory pleasures.

More poetry by Edna St. Vincent Millay on this site

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Edna St. Vincent Milay in a suit

Learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay
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You’ll find the following poems ahead:

  • Spring
  • Assault
  • Sonnet III
  • Three Songs of Shattering
  • Mariposa
  • Portrait by a Neighbor
  • City Trees
  • Song of a Second April
  • Daphne
  • Sonnet
 

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Spring

To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
Is nothing,
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
April
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.

(Originally published in Second April, 1921)

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Assault 

I
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.

II
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!

(Originally published in Second April, 1921)

 

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Sonnet 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 the air to view, –
But you were something more than young and sweet
     And fair – and the long year remembers you.

(originally published in Renascence and Other Poems, 1917)

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Three Songs of Shattering

I
The first rose on my rose-tree
>    Budded, bloomed, and shattered,
During sad days when to me
     Nothing mattered.
Grief of grief has drained me clean;
    Still it seems a pity
No one saw,— it must have been
     Very pretty.

II
Let the little birds sing;
   Let the little lambs play;
Spring is here; and so ’tis spring; –
     But not in the old way!
I recall a place
     Where a plum-tree grew;
There you lifted up your face,
    And blossoms covered you.
If the little birds sing,
    And the little lambs play,
Spring is here; and so ’tis spring –
    But not in the old way!

III
All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree!
     Ere spring was going – ah, spring is gone!
And there comes no summer to the like of you and me, –
     Blossom time is early, but no fruit sets on.
All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree,
   Browned at the edges, turned in a day;
And I would with all my heart they trimmed a mound for me,
    And weeds were tall on all the paths that led that way!

(originally published in Renascence and Other Poems, 1917)

 

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Mariposa

Butterflies are white and blue
In this field we wander through.
Suffer me to take your hand.
Death comes in a day or two.

All the things we ever knew
Will be ashes in that hour:
Mark the transient butterfly,
How he hangs upon the flower.

Suffer me to take your hand.
Suffer me to cherish you
Till the dawn is in the sky.
Whether I be false or true,
Death comes in a day or two.

(originally published in Second April, 1921)

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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
    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!

(originally published in A Few Figs from Thistles, 1922)

 

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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.

(originally published in Second April, 1921)

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Song of a Second April

April this year, not otherwise
    Than April of a year ago,
Is full of whispers, full of sighs,
    Of dazzling mud and dingy snow;
    Hepaticas that pleased you so
And here again, and butterflies.

There rings a hammering all day,
    And shingles lie about the doors;
In orchards near and far away
    The grey wood-pecker taps and bores;
    The men are merry at their chores,
And children earnest at their play.

The larger streams run still and deep,
    Noisy and swift the small brooks run
Among the mullein stalks the sheep
    Go up the hillside in the sun,
   Pensively, — only you are gone,
You that alone I cared to keep.

(originally published in Second April, 1921)

 

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Daphne

Why do you follow me? —
Any moment I can be
Nothing but a laurel-tree.

Any moment of the chase
I can leave you in my place
A pink bough for your embrace.

Yet over hill and hollow
Still it is your will to follow,
I am off; — to heel, Apollo!

(originally published in A Few Figs from Thistles, 1922)

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Sonnet xxvii

I know I am but summer to your heart,
And not the full four seasons of the year;
And you must welcome from another part
Such noble moods as are not mine, my dar.
No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell
Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing;
And I have loved you all too long and well
To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.
Where I say: O love, as summer goes,
I must be gone, steal forth with silent drums,
That you may hail anew the bird and rose
When I come back to you, as summer comes.
Else will you seek, at some not distant time,
Even your summer in another clime.

(originally published in The Harp Weaver, 1923)

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Contributed by Nancy Snyder, who writes about women writers and labor women. After working for the City and County of San Francisco for thirty years, she is now learning everything about Henry David Thoreau in Los Angeles.

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