Edna St Vincent Millay
             1892-1950

Although the biographies I have read about Edna St Vincent Millay make no reference to  mental illness in  herself, the titles of much of her work indicate a personal familiarity with at the very least, mental depression.  Titles such as The Suicide, Sorrow, Ashes of Life, Kin to Sorrow and Three Songs of Shattering pervade her work.

Edna St Vincent Millay lived her bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village, NY throughout her adult life...certainly beyond her time.
 
 
Renascence

     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. 

 



The Suicide

"CURSE thee, Life, I will live with thee no more! 
     Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore! 
     And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me, 
     I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly 
     That I might eat again, and met thy sneers 
     With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,-- 
     Aye, from thy glutted lash, glad, crawled away, 
     As if spent passion were a holiday! 
     And now I go. Nor threat, nor easy vow 
     Of tardy kindness can avail thee now 
     With me, whence fear and faith alike are flown; 
     Lonely I came, and I depart alone, 
     And know not where nor unto whom I go; 
     But that thou canst not follow me I know." 

     Thus I to Life, and ceased; but through my brain 
     My thought ran still, until I spake again: 

     "Ah, but I go not as I came,--no trace 
     Is mine to bear away of that old grace 
     I brought! I have been heated in thy fires, 
     Bent by thy hands, fashioned to thy desires, 
     Thy mark is on me! I am not the same 
     Nor ever more shall be, as when I came. 
     Ashes am I of all that once I seemed. 
     In me all's sunk that leapt, and all that dreamed 
     Is wakeful for alarm,--oh, shame to thee, 
     For the ill change that thou hast wrought in me, 
     Who laugh no more nor lift my throat to sing! 
     Ah, life, I would have been a pleasant thing 
     To have about the house when I was grown 
     If thou hadst left my little joys alone! 
     I asked of thee no favor save this one: 
     That thou wouldst leave me playing in the sun! 
     And this thou didst deny, calling my name 
     Insistently, until I rose and came. 
     I saw the sun no more.--It were not well 
     So long on these unpleasant thoughts to dwell, 
     Need I arise to-morrow and renew 
     Again my hated tasks, but I am through 
     With all things save my thoughts and this one night, 
     So that in truth I seem already quite 
     Free and remote from thee,--I feel no haste 
     And no reluctance to depart; I taste 
     Merely, with thoughtful mien, an unknown draught, 
     That in a little while I shall have quaffed." 

     Thus I to Life, and ceased, and slightly smiled, 
     Looking at nothing; and my thin dreams filed 
     Before me one by one till once again 
     I set new words unto an old refrain: 

     "Treasures thou hast that never have been mine! 
     Warm lights in many a secret chamber shine 
     Of thy gaunt house, and gusts of song have blown 
     Like blossoms out to me that sat alone! 
     And I have waited well for thee to show 
     If any share were mine,--and now I go! 
     Nothing I leave, and if I naught attain 
     I shall but come into mine own again!" 
     Thus I to Life, and ceased, and spake no more, 
     But turning, straightway, sought a certain door 
     In the rear wall. Heavy it was, and low 
     And dark,--a way by which none e'er would go 
     That other exit had, and never knock 
     Was heard thereat,--bearing a curious lock 
     Some chance had shown me fashioned faultily, 
     Whereof Life held content the useless key, 
     And great coarse hinges, thick and rough with rust, 
     Whose sudden voice across a silence must, 
     I knew, be harsh and horrible to hear,-- 
     A strange door, ugly like a dwarf.--So near 
     I came I felt upon my feet the chill 
     Of acid wind creeping across the sill. 
     So stood longtime, till over me at last 
     Came weariness, and all things other passed 
     To make it room; the still night drifted deep 
     Like snow about me, and I longed for sleep. 

     But, suddenly, marking the morning hour, 
     Bayed the deep-throated bell within the tower! 
     Startled, I raised my head,--and with a shout 
     Laid hold upon the latch,--and was without. 

 


     Ah, long-forgotten, well-remembered road, 
     Leading me back unto my old abode, 
     My father's house! There in the night I came, 
     And found them feasting, and all things the same 
     As they had been before. A splendour hung 
     Upon the walls, and such sweet songs were sung 
     As, echoing out of very long ago, 
     Had called me from the house of Life, I know. 
     So fair their raiment shone I looked in shame 
     On the unlovely garb in which I came; 
     Then straightway at my hesitancy mocked: 
     "It is my father's house!" I said and knocked; 
     And the door opened. To the shining crowd 
     Tattered and dark I entered, like a cloud, 
     Seeing no face but his; to him I crept, 
     And "Father!" I cried, and clasped his knees, and wept. 
     Ah, days of joy that followed! All alone 
     I wandered through the house. My own, my own, 
     My own to touch, my own to taste and smell, 
     All I had lacked so long and loved so well! 
     None shook me out of sleep, nor hushed my song, 
     Nor called me in from the sunlight all day long. 

     I know not when the wonder came to me 
     Of what my father's business might be, 
     And whither fared and on what errands bent 
     The tall and gracious messengers he sent. 
     Yet one day with no song from dawn till night 
     Wondering, I sat, and watched them out of sight. 
     And the next day I called; and on the third 
     Asked them if I might go,--but no one heard. 
     Then, sick with longing, I arose at last 
     And went unto my father,--in that vast 
     Chamber wherein he for so many years 
     Has sat, surrounded by his charts and spheres. 
     "Father," I said, "Father, I cannot play 
     The harp that thou didst give me, and all day 
     I sit in idleness, while to and fro 
     About me thy serene, grave servants go; 
     And I am weary of my lonely ease. 
     Better a perilous journey overseas 
     Away from thee, than this, the life I lead, 
     To sit all day in the sunshine like a weed 
     That grows to naught,--I love thee more than they 
     Who serve thee most; yet serve thee in no way. 
     Father, I beg of thee a little task 
     To dignify my days,--'tis all I ask 
     Forever, but forever, this denied, 
     I perish." 
        "Child," my father's voice replied, 
     "All things thy fancy hath desired of me 
     Thou hast received. I have prepared for thee 
     Within my house a spacious chamber, where 
     Are delicate things to handle and to wear, 
     And all these things are thine. Dost thou love song? 
     My minstrels shall attend thee all day long. 
     Or sigh for flowers? My fairest gardens stand 
     Open as fields to thee on every hand. 
     And all thy days this word shall hold the same: 
     No pleasure shalt thou lack that thou shalt name. 
     But as for tasks--" he smiled, and shook his head; 
     "Thou hadst thy task, and laidst it by," he said.

 



 

The Shroud

Death, I say, my heart is bowed
   Unto thine,--O mother!
This red gown will make a shroud
   Good as any other!

(I, that would not wait to wear
   My own bridal things,
In a dress dark as my hair
   Made my answerings.

I, to-night, that till he came
   Could not, could not wait,
In a gown as bright as flame
   Held for them the gate. )

Death, I say, my heart is bowed
   Unto thine,--O mother!
This red gown will make a shroud
   Good as any other!

 


 Blight

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.
 

 



 

     Sorrow

Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
   Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain,--
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
   Neither stop nor start.

People dress and go to town;
   I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
   Or what shoes I wear.
 
 
 

 
 

 

 


 
 

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