817. Ragged Island, by Edna St. Vincent Millay

There, there where those black spruces crowd
To the edge of the precipitous cliff,
Above your boat, under the eastern wall of the island;
And no wave breaks; as if
All had been done, and long ago, that needed
Doing; and the cold tide, unimpeded
By shoal or shelving ledge, moves up and down,
Instead of in and out;
And there is no driftwood there, because there is no beach;
Clean cliff going down as deep as clear water can reach;

No driftwood, such as abounds on the roaring shingle,
To be hefted home, for fires in the kitchen stove;
Barrels, banged ashore about the boiling outer harbour;
Lobster-buoys, on the eel-grass of the sheltered cove:

There, thought unbraids itself, and the mind becomes single.
There you row with tranquil oars, and the ocean
Shows no scar from the cutting of your placid keel;
Care becomes senseless there; pride and promotion
Remote; you only look; you scarcely feel.

Even adventure, with its vital uses,
Is aimless ardour now; and thrift is waste.

Oh, to be there, under the silent spruces,
Where the wide, quiet evening darkens without haste
Over a sea with death acquainted, yet forever chaste.

Source: Collected Poems


  1. what is this poem about? im so confused.

  2. It's about Ragged Island, Maine. Millay kept a summer home there. The islands off of Maine are beautiful, but also lonely, and desolate. The sea often climbs from placid to violent in mere minutes, and the forest is primeval and dark.

  3. Oh, to be in a relaxed and focused calm state as one might imagine from this beautiful isolated scene; without any tasks or roles to perform, alert to your own mind, fully sensing beauty, and at peace with death.