Every poem written by Edna St. Vincent Millay has fascinated us, and ‘Departure’ is no exception. The poem explores some very complex emotions that are hard to name or explain.
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poems have always explored the dark and morose side of human life; suffering, pain, heartbreaks, loss, etc. But there is some beauty in the way she presents these emotions and ideas.
While the poem is relatively long, we’ll look at the meaning of the poem in a simple way to understand it better. First, let’s take a look at the poem.
Departure by Edna St. Vincent Millay
It's little I care what path I take, And where it leads it's little I care, But out of this house, lest my heart break, I must go, and off somewhere! It's little I know what's in my heart, What's in my mind it's little I know, But there's that in me must up and start, And it's little I care where my feet go! I wish I could walk for a day and a night, And find me at dawn in a desolate place, With never the rut of a road in sight, Or the roof of a house, or the eyes of a face. I wish I could walk till my blood should spout, And drop me, never to stir again, On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out, And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain. But dump or dock, where the path I take Brings up, it's little enough I care, And it's little I'd mind the fuss they'll make, Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere. "Is something the matter, dear," she said, "That you sit at your work so silently?" "No, mother, no—'twas a knot in my thread. There goes the kettle—I'll make the tea."
Meaning of the Poem Departure
There is not much complex metaphor or imagery used in the poem. The language is simple, dry, and to the point. The poet wants to express her feelings about her mental state and the poem serves its purpose.
There is no need for any garnish. The poem is a simple explanation of what the poet feels. But that does not mean there is nothing to find in the poem.
Let’s look at the stanzas separately and then at the meaning of it.
It’s little I care what path I take,
And where it leads it’s little I care,
But out of this house, lest my heart break,
I must go, and off somewhere!
The first stanza seems a bit confusing, especially in the first few lines. The poetess says that she does not care what path she takes as long as she starts a journey. We do not know where, and even the speaker is unaware of her destination.
But then as we read along, we get to know she wants to get out of the house she is currently in. She just wants to leave, and unless leaving the house does not make her feel too bad, she wants to go away.
It’s little I know what’s in my heart,
What’s in my mind it’s little I know,
But there’s that in me must up and start,
And it’s little I care where my feet go!
In the second stanza, the speaker says that she does not know anything about this intuition of moving ahead somewhere. Despite not knowing, she knows that something in her head says to get up and start.
It doesn’t matter where she moves as long as she moves.
I wish I could walk for a day and a night,
And find me at dawn in a desolate place,
With never the rut of a road in sight,
Or the roof of a house, or the eyes of a face.
The third stanza shows the desire of the speaker to find a desolate space. She wants to be alone, not between people or in any civilization. She wants to be at peace.
She wants to walk as long as she can so that she might find a place where there are no people, no houses, no roads, or any signs of civilization.
I wish I could walk till my blood should spout,
And drop me, never to stir again,
On a shore that is wide, for the tide is out,
And the weedy rocks are bare to the rain.
The fourth stanza takes a very dark turn when the speaker says she wants to walk until she starts spewing and she falls down, motionless. She would want to fall on a shore with bare rocks everywhere.
Perhaps she wants to be taken away by the tide into the ocean so that no one can find her even after death. The life in her house has made her hate it so much that she would prefer to die.
But dump or dock, where the path I take
Brings up, it’s little enough I care,
And it’s little I’d mind the fuss they’ll make,
Huddled dead in a ditch somewhere.
Continuing from the previous stanza, the speaker says that it does not matter where she would go; a waste dump or a shore after death. She couldn’t care less.
She would not mind if she lies dead in a ditch somewhere for she will be dead and gone. This apathy towards life shows that she is very depressed and finds that only death can give her the relief she is looking for.
“Is something the matter, dear,” she said,
“That you sit at your work so silently?”
“No, mother, no—’twas a knot in my thread.
There goes the kettle—I’ll make the tea.”
The final stanza puts the last missing puzzle piece and the entire poem starts to make sense. The entire series of thoughts about walking till she dies and gets buried in a ditch all occur while she is sitting in her house.
Her mother interrupts this chain of thoughts and asks what happens as the speaker is lost in thought. She says that it was nothing and proceeds to go and make tea.
Theme and Essence of the Poem
After the end we understand that the speaker lives a very simple life with her mother, doing household chores and she does not like this life a single bit.
On the outside, she shows that everything is fine, but no one else can know the kind of morbid and destructive thoughts that brew inside her mind.
She is definitely suffering from depression and wants to be away from everyone and just die. But she holds up a fake appearance and makes everyone believe that she is perfectly okay.
Read more poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay such as The Betrothal by Edna St. Vincent Millay