‘Journey’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a thirty-two stanza poem that is contained within one single stanza of text. Millay has chosen not to structure this piece with a consistent pattern of rhyme but instead unify it through its intensely visual imagery and natural subject matter.
A reader should also take note of the repetition of imagery that is present in Millay’s poem. The first lines start out with the motion of a “dusty road” on which the speaker is traveling, this dreary path is mentioned two more times throughout the text. Along with various moments in which the speaker moves, of her own volition, and not.
The path on which the speaker travels boarded by various descriptions of beautiful imagery. These sights, smells, and sounds are inaccessible to the speaker and often enhanced by color descriptions. The landscape through which the speaker is seeking to travel is described at various points as “silver,” “blue,” “white,” and “pink.” It is clear that Millay was interested in the visuals her text would evoke in a reader’s mind.
Summary of Journey
In the first section of the poem, the speaker admits her desire to leave the path of her life and take the time to relax in a field. She has never had the ability to simply enjoy a moment and longs to do so. Although this is her deepest desire, she cannot have it. She must follow her predetermined path.
The following lines are used to describe what she would experience if she had the ability to take in the world around her without a specific goal in mind. Her life would consist of connections to nature which would bring her to a much happier state.
‘Journey’ concludes on an optimistic note. Although she cannot live this kind of life, she can imagine it. This fact allows the world to belong to her.
Analysis of Journey
Ah, could I lay me down in this long grass
And close my eyes, and let the quiet wind
Blow over me—I am so tired, so tired
Of passing pleasant places! All my life,
Following Care along the dusty road,
Have I looked back at loveliness and sighed;
In the first set of lines of ‘Journey’, the speaker begins by describing something for which she has a deep longing. She describes an ideal pattern of events that would allow her to “lay…down in this long grass.” It is clear from these first lines that the speaker is seeking some kind of escape from the world. She finds peace in nature, particularly in this spot she is thinking of and imagines a world where she would be allowed to simply reside there.
One is also able to determine from these lines that she is unable to have what she wants. For one reason or another she cannot take the rest she so desires. If she were able to, the world, in the form of the “quiet wind,” would “Blow over” her. Everything would pass her by and she would no longer be bothered by the “passing pleasant places.”
One should take note of the alliteration used in this line. It sets these places up as somewhere she is quite familiar with, and a reader might be as well. They are moment without true substances or situations in which one gains nothing, only a passing pleasure.
The following lines lend additional detail to the situations the speaker is so tired of. She says that her whole life has been spent,
Following Care along the dusty road.
There have been no moments in which it was allowed to develop her own sense of what she cared about or wanted to do. Every second of her life was pushed forward, moved on, and rushed about from place to place. This has forced her to only see the world from a distance. She is only able to…
[…] look back at loveliness and sigh…
Yet at my hand an unrelenting hand
Tugged ever, and I passed. All my life long
Over my shoulder have I looked at peace;
And now I fain would lie in this long grass
And close my eyes.
Although it is clear the speaker has a deep longing for another way of life, she has been unable to achieve it. This is due to the “hand” that pulls at her own, unrelentingly. Someone, or some structure of her life, has kept her from being able to dwell for any period of time in one moment.
The speaker has never truly experienced “peace.” It is something she has only seen over her “shoulder.” She feels as if the good things in life are passing her by and she is beginning to become desperate for them.
The last three lines of this section are used to describe the speaker’s true happiness at the prospect of being able to “lie in this long grass,” although it is not possible for her to do so. She would “fain” or be more than willing to “close her eyes” and simply exist for a moment. But, that is impossible for her. She must go “onward!”
Cat birds call
Through the long afternoon, and creeks at dusk
Are guttural. Whip-poor-wills wake and cry,
Drawing the twilight close about their throats.
Only my heart makes answer. Eager vines
Go up the rocks and wait; flushed apple-trees
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me;
In the next section of ‘Journey’ the speaker imagines what a moment of peace would be like. She gives the reader a great number of details concerning the environment she is looking for. In this place, one would be able to hear “Cat birds call” all throughout the long, un-rushed “afternoon.” In addition to the birds, there would be the sounds of “creeks at dusk.” This sound brings about the later hours of the day and although it is a “guttural” noise, it is still extremely pleasant.
As the day begins to draw to a close one would hear the “Whip-poor-wills” which wake up and “cry.” They draw “twilight” to a close. The only answer that any of these noises receive, as they reach out into the world, is the one given by the speaker’s heart.
While looking around this imagined scene, she knows she would see vines that travel up rock faces and “apple-trees” which…
Pause in their dance and break the ring for me.
The beauty of nature has come alive and invited the speaker in to participate in their dance. She would become a part of the peace she had yet only seen over her shoulder.
And bayberry, that through sweet bevies thread
Of round-faced roses, pink and petulant,
Look back and beckon ere they disappear.
Only my heart, only my heart responds.
Yet, ah, my path is sweet on either side
All through the dragging day,—sharp underfoot
And hot, and like dead mist the dry dust hangs—
The description continues into the next section in which she describes other plant life and how it too has taken on human characteristics. The natural world is become more personified as the speaker’s longing for it grows. It is only possible for her to experience these things if she is able to “beckon” for them. Her “heart” is the only heart that “responds.”
Although she has this special connection with the world around her, the path she follows leads through the sweetness. She does not get to step to either side but must face the “dragging day.” The road she travels is “sharp underfoot / And hot.” It is wholly unpleasant and covered in an air of “dry dust.”
But far, oh, far as passionate eye can reach,
And long, ah, long as rapturous eye can cling,
The world is mine: blue hill, still silver lake,
Broad field, bright flower, and the long white road
A gateless garden, and an open path:
My feet to follow, and my heart to hold.
In the final set of lines in ‘Journey’, the speaker describes the power of her own eye to “reach” out farther than her body can go. Her sight is “passionate” and with her eye, she can take in the whole world. The world becomes her own. Everything she wishes for, including the…
[…] still silver lake,
Brand field, bright flower, and the long white road
These things all belong to her, because she can envision them. She imagines herself having access to a “gateless garden” that does not confine one, or keep one out. It is attached to an “open” and accessible path that she can “hold” in her heart and follow with her “feet.”