‘God’s World’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a fourteen-line sonnet which has been separated into two stanzas. These stanzas both adhere to the unconventional rhyme scheme of, abbccaa deeffdd, and contain seven lines each.
When one first observes the text of this piece one will be struck by the spacing of the lines. Millay has chosen to indent lines 2,3,9 and 10. This draws additional attention to those particular phrases and the metrical pattern to which they conform. These lines are composed of three metrical feet, and are written in iambic trimeter. While all other lines are written in iambic pentameter, containing five metrical feet and one unstressed syllable followed by one stressed.
The speaker begins by stating that no matter what she does, she is unable to bring the world and its elements any closer to her being. She wants to “hold” the earth to her for as long, and as intimately, as she can.
She goes on to describe a number of parts of the world she finds the most moving. She speaks of the winds, mists, woods, and cliffs which are too heavy for her to lift. In the final section, she turns her words to God. The speaker informs him that she is full to bursting with emotions, and that he may have made the world too beautiful this year. Her soul is trying to leave her body.
The speaker pleads with God, and the world, not to let her see a falling autumn leaf nor hear a bird’s call. If this happens, she believes she will not be able to handle it.
Analysis of God’s World
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough!
Thy winds, thy wide grey skies!
Thy mists, that roll and rise!
Thy woods, this autumn day, that ache and sag
And all but cry with colour! That gaunt crag
To crush! To lift the lean of that black bluff!
World, World, I cannot get thee close enough!
In the first stanza of ‘God’s World’, the speaker begins with an exclamation. It will be followed by a number of other statements that convey her enthusiasm for the earth and all the sights, creatures, and experiences which reside on and in it. It is important to note that the intended listener of this piece is the earth itself.
The first line describes how the speaker feels so much love and desire for the joys of the earth that she “cannot hold thee close enough!” She cries out for the “world,” admitting that nothing she can do will bring her the intimacy she is looking for. She “hold[s]” the earth to her, but it is never enough.
The next two lines, the first set written in iambic trimeter, list two elements of the earth which have some of the greatest appeals to the speaker. She begins by addressing the “winds,” and then moving quickly on to the skies. She states that they are “wide” and “grey.” These two adjectives might initially seem unimpressive, but taken together they create a sublime image of an all-encompassing, inescapable sky that seems more capable of entrancing a viewer.
She moves on to the “mists” which move across the surface of the earth. They “roll and rise!” The speaker seems to be making a concerted effort to speak to the elements of the earth with which she is the most impressive. She wants to make sure the earth knows how she adores it.
The next parts of the earth she celebrates are the woods which are, on “this autumn day” completely filled with color. They seem to “ache” and “sag” with the density of their beauty. This description casts the world into the same predicament as the speaker. Just as she is unable to handle everything she sees, so too is the world unable to carry its own beauty.
The final lines of this section describe how the physicality of the earth, the rocks, crags, and bluffs can be seen as an impediment. The speaker longs to lift the cliffs and bring herself as close to the “gaunt” crags as possible, but their mass is too great. The final line is an echo of the first, she is once more is decrying her situation to the world. She says, “World, World, I cannot get thee close enough.”
Long have I known a glory in it all,
But never knew I this;
Here such a passion is
As stretcheth me apart,—Lord, I do fear
Thou’st made the world too beautiful this year;
My soul is all but out of me,—let fall
No burning leaf; prithee, let no bird call.
In the second half of ‘God’s World’, the speaker changes the force she is speaking to. Up until this point she has been addressing the world or its individual elements. She now turns her words to God. She wants him to understand her passion, and hear her appreciation for the things he has made.
Before going into the details of her new passion she wants to make sure God knows that she has always found “glory” in the world, this is not something completely new to her.
There has been a change though. She is now, in this particular year, experiencing something she never has before. It is a “passion,” love, or increased appreciation which is so powerful it feels as if she is being stretched apart. Her body is unable to handle the amount of beauty and “glory” in the world.
Her body is being racked by her newly increased emotions and she fears for her own capacity to contain them. She speaks directly to God stating, “Lord, I do fear” that you “made the world too beautiful this year.” Although it is clear that the speaker does not truly mean that God should have made the world uglier, her words work to convey the message of an overwhelmed lover of the earth.
In the final two lines the narrator speaks as if her “soul” is going to leave her body. It is trying to escape from its confines and join nature. She continues to plead with God, asking that he does not do anything to increase the world’s beauty further. The speaker does not want to see any glorious falling leaves, or hear a “bird call.”