‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay transcends society’s stereotypical depiction of what beauty is and can be. The poet emphasizes the multifaceted nature of beauty and how widespread it truly is. One cannot walk through life without seeing it, if they are indeed looking for it.
Explore Still will I harvest beauty where it grows
Throughout this piece, Millay’s speaker, who is very likely the poet herself, takes the reader on a trip to and through the various beautiful things she knows. She’s sought them out and studied them. These include the rainbows in pools of oil amongst trash, the rot on old food, and the colorful fungus growing in the forest. Readers, and those around her, are lightly chastised at the end of the poem if they get scared or turned off by something as simple as a metaphorical creaking door hinge.
In ‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows,’ Millay engages with themes of beauty and expectations. The latter is tied directly to humankind’s normal valuation of what’s beautiful and valuable and what’s not. Millay and her speaker see things differently. She moves through life acknowledging and appreciating the most beautiful things around her. These are not the traditionally beautiful elements one expects to find in a poem, like flowers and rivers. She is trying to push beyond society’s expectations for beauty, not just in nature, but in the rest of life as well.
Structure and Form
‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a fourteen-line sonnet that follows a simple rhyme scheme of ABBAABBACDECED. The first eight lines, or the first two quatrains, follow the normal pattern for a Petrarchan or Italian sonnet. The final six lines, known as the sestet, diverge from that pattern slightly in their complex arrangement. While this is still a Petrarchan sonnet, the ending rhymes are arranged unusually. Readers should also take note of the fact that Millay chose to write her lines in iambic pentameter. While there are a few moments where the stresses move locations, the majority of the lines contain five sets of two beats, the first of which is unstressed and the second stressed.
Millay makes use of several literary devices in ‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows.’ These include but are not limited to alliteration, enjambment, and personification. The latter is clearly used throughout the poet as Millay harvests “beauty” wherever her speaker can find it.
Alliteration is a common type of repetition that occurs when the poet uses the same consonant sounds at the beginning of words. For example, “foods forgotten” in line three and “scum shows” in line eight.
Enjambment occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines two and three, as well as four as five. Readers have to go down to the next line to find out how the phrase concludes.
Still will I harvest beauty where it grows:
In coloured fungus and the spotted fog
Surprised on foods forgotten; in ditch and bog
Filmed brilliant with irregular rainbows
In the first four lines of ‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows,’ the speaker begins with the line that later came to be used as the title of the poem. She declares that she’s going to seek out beauty, no matter where it’s growing or what form it takes. She can find it anywhere, she says. It lives in the coloured fungus and the “spotted frog.” There is beauty in the colors of rotting food and in the “ditch and “bog.”
Of rust and oil, where half a city throws
Its empty tins; and in some spongy log
Whence headlong leaps the oozy emerald frog. . . .
And a black pupil in the green scum shows.
Moving into the second quatrain, Millay continues on, suggesting that tone can find beautiful rainbows in the patterns of “rust and oil” in amongst where the city throws their trash. She’s encouraging the reader to see the world the same way she does. There is beauty to be seen everywhere and therefore one should take joy in those moments and appreciate them. The world is a beautiful place and Millay’s speaker is celebrating that.
She brings the poem back to a frog, this time jumping through the “green scum” of a pond.
Her the inhabiter of divers places
Surmising at all doors, I push them all.
Oh, you that fearful of a creaking hinge
Turn back forevermore with craven faces,
I tell you Beauty bears an ultra fringe
Unguessed of you upon her gossamer shawl!
In the final six lines of ‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows,’ the speaker refers to “Her.” This is a perfect example of a “volta” or turn in a sonnet. The second half of the poem is trying to accomplish something slightly different than the first half of the poem. Millay calls beauty “her” and describes her as the “inhabiter of divers places.” There, she seeks beauty out, opening all the doors. Continuing the door metaphor, the poet refers to “you,” those who do not see the world the same way she does and turn back when something is slightly unpleasant, like the creaking of a door. She lightly chastises this state of mind, then once more tries to encourage “you” to step out of your comfort zone and see beauty where it always existed but one never thought to look for it.
Readers who enjoyed ‘Still will I harvest beauty where it grows’ should also consider reading some of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s other best-known poems. For example:
- ‘Love is Not All’ – a Shakespearean sonnet in which Millay describes the ways that humanity suffers for love.
- ‘First Fig’ – addresses the poet’s sexuality and career from a personal perspective and through an image of a candle burning at both ends.
- ‘Ashes of Life’ – is told from the perspective of someone who’s lost touch with her ambitions. She’s stuck in the rut of everyday life, unable to escape it.