The speaker uses plain language and recognizable literary devices in order to describe the return of the spring season. There is a great deal of juxtaposition within this poem. It exists between the images Millay includes as well as those readers were likely expecting and those they really encounter in ‘Spring.’
Spring 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 Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs. It is not enough that yearly, down this hill, April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
‘Spring’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a short, surprising poem that presents a negative view of spring.
The poem begins with the speaker asking “April,” the month usually associated with the spring season, why it has to come back. Beauty, she notes, is not enough of a reason. There is a fictional aspect in this beauty that bothers the speaker. She knows that it’s not the truth. There is far more death and decay under the surface. The speaker describes spring as an “idiot” in the last few lines of the poem.
Structure and Form
‘Spring’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is an eighteen-line poem that is contained within one set of lines. The poem is written in free verse. This means that the lines do not make use of a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern.
Throughout this piece, Millay makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Enjambment: can be seen when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines three and four as well as lines eleven and twelve.
- Imagery: can be seen when the poet uses particularly interesting descriptions. These should trigger the reader’s senses. For example, “Of little leaves opening stickily.”
- Alliteration: occurs when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “little leaves” in line four.
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.
In the first lines of this poem, the speaker begins by addressing her words to April. This is an example of an apostrophe. The speaker is talking to something that cannot hear her or respond to her. She asks April why the month (which represents spring) chose to return. Beauty is not enough of a reason, she adds. The spring season is a simple thing, she suggests. It brings beauty and peace but nothing that the speaker can really feel moved by. She continues this jaded point of view into the following lines.
She knows what she knows, the speaker says. She has lived through the seasons before. Spring suggests that there is “no death,” but that’s not true. There is far more than this outward beauty to be considered.
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.
The speaker asks another question in the next lines, “What does that signify?” She thinks the apparent appearance of “no death” is quite the opposite. Within the beauty of spring, there is a great deal of darkness. There is the underground world of the dead with the “brains of men / Eaten by maggots.”
The speaker makes a statement about life in the following lines, suggesting it is “nothing.” It is “An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.” Life is not what spring presents. At this moment, she sees spring as “an idiot”. It comes with beauty and colors to decorate a world that is, in reality, “nothing.”
Readers may find themselves wondering why Millay chose to approach spring in such a way. Perhaps, and readers can only speculate at this point, she felt overwhelmed by the number of traditional spring poems contained within the English language and didn’t want to add to their ranks. Or, perhaps she was experiencing a particularly dark period in her life and wanted to remind readers that death is ever-present, even when spring is only just returning.
The themes at work in this poem are seasons and change. The speaker knows that spring brings with it changes that appear beautiful. But to her, they aren’t real. She reveals this through the eighteen lines of the poem.
The purpose is to reveal the truth about spring. The speaker does not romanticize spring as is common within poetry. Instead, she calls it an “idiot” and makes fun of its “babbling.”
The speaker may be Millay herself, but it’s unclear. They are someone who is thinking about the spring season and the truth behind its lively and beautiful facade.
The tone is disappointed and cynical. The speaker feels disappointed in the arrival of spring and unmoved by its colors and life. She knows it is all temporary and can’t help but feel that celebrating it is foolish.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Spring’ should also consider reading some other Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems. For example:
- ‘Elegy Before Death’ – is about the physical and spiritual impact of a loss and how it can and cannot change one’s world.
- ‘First Fig’ – a well-loved and often discussed poem. In it, readers can explore a symbolic depiction of sexuality and freedom.
- ‘Ashes of Life’ – is told from the perspective of a speaker who has lost all touch with her own ambitions and is stuck within the monotonous rut of everyday life.