The world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide

light through clouds

The soul can split the sky in two, and let the face of God shine through.



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.

by Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950)
from Renascence and Other Poems, 1917

Introducing Edna St. Vincent Millay

One of the first women to win a Pulitzer Prize, Edna St. Vincent Millay was a controversial poet and activist who lived with her passions in the open. Also among the first women to write frankly and shamelessly about her romantic affairs, unconventional lifestyles like hers put the “roaring” in the roaring 20’s.

Millay began publishing poetry as a teenager. When she was 20 her poem Renascence won a contest, getting attention leading to the support that put her through college. In 1917, the year she graduated, Renascence was republished in her first book, Renascence and Other Poems.

This is a lovely excerpt.

We’ve all had tired, frustrated days when we know without a shadow of a doubt that “he whose soul is flat – the sky Will cave in on him by and by.” On those days it’s precious to know that paradigm shift can change the whole feel of the natural world, “can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through.”

Giving up is a death. Living is believing is living.

I’ve excerpted just the last dozen lines of a 214 line poem. If you’d like to read The Whole Thing, Renascence is available via The Gutenberg Project. However, if you’re a romantic at heart you might not want to click on that link.

The very best way to read something like this is in luxurious print… at dawn, on a clear, nearly frozen morning when the crocuses are about to bloom, sitting on a quiet back porch, cocooned in a very large quilt. The pot would be sweetened with good coffee and a homemade scone nearby, or maybe a champagne mimosa and blintzes, but they’re more like gatekeepers or appetizers, not the main event, and neither is the poem. The real deal is where they can lead you: inhaling the morning.

Some poems tempt. Some kick you in the bazoo. Edna St. Vincent Millay can do both.

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3 Responses to “The world stands out on either side, no wider than the heart is wide”

  1. Daisy Says:

    Edna was a woman of courage — for her day, and now. I like to think she’d be on the campaign trail pushing for more women in Congress. But that’s just the way a lot of my poetry runs!

  2. March Quote Snack News | Quote Snack Says:

    […] significant days in history that could be honored by a quote. Recent reader favorites have been Edna Saint Vincent Millay’s birthday, one of Annie Sullivan’s letters about Helen Keller first learning to spell, and Abraham […]

  3. Toni Says:

    This poem came back to me today – from a long ago time, when I first learned it – but today we were studying C. S. Lewis and Weight of Glory. They both speak of the world’s pleasure (sky, earth, world’s rewards) being not just gifts in themselves, but openings to an experience of God. As our soul is open to these gifts we receive them not just as idols in themselves but as something that points us to more – e.g. the face of God shining through.