The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Edna St. Vincent Millay’s “Ragged Island” is a twenty-four-line descriptive poem that expresses the poet’s deep connection to the Maine island in Casco Bay where she and her husband summered for many years. She meditates on the distinctive attributes of this island and its beneficial effects. Intimate in its approach, the poem addresses an unspecified “you,” most likely Millay herself, no stranger to Ragged Island.

The opening gesture of the poem is a fifteen-line segment punctuated as a single sentence. The first and last lines of this segment begin with the word “There” to emphasize the island itself. Its outstanding feature is a steep cliff at the top of which spruces grow. Because of the shape of this cliff and the way it plunges into the sea, there is no perceptible wave action—low tide or high tide makes little difference. Instead, the surrounding ocean simply “moves up and down” the cliff face. The speaker meditates on this feature. To her, it seems “as if/ All had been done, and long ago, that needed/ Doing.” Ragged Island emerges from the first ten lines as an extraordinary, memorable place. Nothing clutters the aspect of “Clean cliff going down as deep as clear water can reach.”

In the rest of the poem’s first sentence, Millay draws a contrast between the “eastern wall” of Ragged Island and other, more ordinary seascapes. Because of the cliff and the lack of beach, there are neither people nor...

(The entire section is 567 words.)