By Edna St. Vincent Millay
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 the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
(Today’s poem is in the public domain, belongs to the masses, and appears here today accordingly.)
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), was an American lyrical poet, playwright, and feminist activist. She received the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 and the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry in 1943.
Editor’s Note: Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of the great poets of the 20th century. I am struck, when reading today’s poem, at its lack of antiquated language, at its freedom from rhyme and meter. St. Vincent Millay was a poet ahead of her time; she is revered among the American poetic tradition not because of the way we look back on her work, but for the way her work was ahead of its time, the way it wrought a new tradition. What Peter Gizzi has written of Barbara Guest and tradition is appropriate in this instance: “[Her] poetry, like all great art, makes us reconsider tradition—not as a fixed canonical body that exists behind us or bears us up but as something we move toward. We find it reading back through those very works that were ahead of their own time, their readers, and even their authors…”
I was inspired to share today’s poem not only because it is as alive today as it was a hundred years ago, but also because its subject matter is one we East Coasters know all too well. Spring here is bitter. We are teased with days of warmth followed by days of bitter cold. The sun is shining, the first blossoms are on the trees, but we are still in our winter coats, wondering, “To what purpose, April, do you return again?”