Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies

Edna St. Vincent Millay

 
Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age
The child is grown, and puts away childish things.
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.
Nobody that matters, that is. Distant relatives of course
Die, whom one never has seen or has seen for an hour,
And they gave one candy in a pink-and-green stripéd bag, or a jack-knife,
And went away, and cannot really be said to have lived at all.
And cats die. They lie on the floor and lash their tails,
And their reticent fur is suddenly all in motion
With fleas that one never knew were there,
Polished and brown, knowing all there is to know,
Trekking off into the living world.
You fetch a shoe-box, but it's much too small, because she won't curl up now:
So you find a bigger box, and bury her in the yard, and weep.
But you do not wake up a month from then, two months
A year from then, two years, in the middle of the night
And weep, with your knuckles in your mouth, and say Oh, God! Oh, God!
Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies that matters,
—mothers and fathers don't die.
And if you have said, "For heaven's sake, must you always be kissing a person?"
Or, "I do wish to gracious you'd stop tapping on the window with your thimble!"
Tomorrow, or even the day after tomorrow if you're busy having fun,
Is plenty of time to say, "I'm sorry, mother."
To be grown up is to sit at the table with people who have died,
who neither listen nor speak;
Who do not drink their tea, though they always said
Tea was such a comfort.
Run down into the cellar and bring up the last jar of raspberries;
they are not tempted.
Flatter them, ask them what was it they said exactly
That time, to the bishop, or to the overseer, or to Mrs. Mason;
They are not taken in.
Shout at them, get red in the face, rise,
Drag them up out of their chairs by their stiff shoulders and shake
them and yell at them;
They are not startled, they are not even embarrassed; they slide
back into their chairs.
Your tea is cold now.
You drink it standing up,
And leave the house.
 
Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Childhood is the Kingdom Where Nobody Dies," from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

Poems by This Author

Afternoon on a Hill by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I will be the gladdest thing
Ashes of Life by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike
Assault by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
Ebb by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I know what my heart is like
First Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay
My candle burns at both ends
God's World by Edna St. Vincent Millay
O world, I cannot hold thee close enough
Hearing your words and not a word among them (Sonnet XXXVI) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Humoresque by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I know I am but summer to your heart (Sonnet XXVII) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I know I am but summer to your heart
I shall forget you presently, my dear (Sonnet XI) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I shall forget you presently, my dear
I think I should have loved you presently (Sonnet IX) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I think I should have loved you presently
I, Being born a Woman and Distressed (Sonnet XLI) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I, being born a woman and distressed
Inert Perfection by Edna St. Vincent Millay
“Inert Perfection, let me chip your shell
Inland by Edna St. Vincent Millay
People that build their houses inland,
Intention to Escape from Him by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I think I will learn some beautiful language, useless for commercial
Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Modern Declaration by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I, having loved ever since I was a child a few things, never having wavered
Passer Mortuus Est by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Death devours all lovely things
Recuerdo by Edna St. Vincent Millay
We were very tired, we were very merry
Renascence by Edna St. Vincent Millay
All I could see from where I stood
Second Fig by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand:
She Is Overheard Singing by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Oh, Prue she has a patient man
Spring by Edna St. Vincent Millay
To what purpose, April, do you return again
The Plaid Dress by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Strong sun, that bleach
The Suicide by Edna St. Vincent Millay
"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thursday by Edna St. Vincent Millay
And if I loved you Wednesday
Time does not bring relief (Sonnet II) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
To a Young Poet by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Time cannot break the bird's wing from the bird
Travel by Edna St. Vincent Millay
The railroad track is miles away
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (Sonnet XLIII) by Edna St. Vincent Millay
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
Wild Swans by Edna St. Vincent Millay
I looked in my heart while the wild swans went over
Witch-Wife by Edna St. Vincent Millay
She is neither pink nor pale,


Further Reading

Poems About Childhood
"Out, Out—"
by Robert Frost
Don't Let Me Be Lonely [There was a time]
by Claudia Rankine
A Boy Juggling a Soccer Ball
by Christopher Merrill
A child said, What is the grass?
by Walt Whitman
Another Country
by Ryan Teitman
anyone lived in a pretty how town
by E. E. Cummings
Babylon
by Robert Graves
Because I cannot remember my first kiss
by Roger Bonair-Agard
Birches
by Robert Frost
Block City
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Blur
by Andrew Hudgins
deer & salt block
by Joshua Marie Wilkinson
Early Memory
by January Gill O'Neil
Fern Hill
by Dylan Thomas
Fifteen, Maybe Sixteen Things to Worry About
by Judith Viorst
For Some Slight I Can't Quite Recall
by Ross Gay
From the Lives of My Friends
by Michael Dickman
Giraffes
by Kimiko Hahn
Going Down Hill on a Bicycle
by Henry Charles Beeching
In the Waiting Room
by Elizabeth Bishop
Jabberwocky
by Lewis Carroll
Lullaby in Blue
by Betsy Sholl
My Aunts
by Meghan O'Rourke
My Bright Aluminum Tumblers
by Michael Ryan
My Childhood
by Matthew Zapruder
Ode on Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood
by William Wordsworth
Pirate Story
by Robert Louis Stevenson
Playgrounds
by Laurence Alma-Tadema
Pledge
by Elizabeth Powell
Poem for You
by David Shapiro
Recuerdo
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Solar system bedsheets
by Sarah Vap
The Children's Hour
by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow
The Gaffe
by C. K. Williams
The Lamb
by William Blake
The Portrait
by Stanley Kunitz
The Retreat
by Henry Vaughan
The Swing
by Robert Louis Stevenson
The Tower
by W. B. Yeats
They Call This
by C. K. Williams
To My Best Friend's Big Sister
by Ross Gay
Untitled [The child thought it strange]
by Richard Meier
Untitled [You mustn't swim till you're six weeks old]
by Rudyard Kipling
We Are Seven
by William Wordsworth