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The Penitent -- Edna St Vincent Millay

       
(Poem #108) The Penitent
         I had a little Sorrow,
          Born of a little Sin,
    I found a room all damp with gloom
         And shut us all within;
   And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
    "And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
       And I upon the floor will lie
     And think how bad I've been!"

       Alas for pious planning - -
        It mattered not a whit!
    As far as gloom went in that room,
      The lamp might have been lit!
    My little Sorrow would not weep,
    My little Sin would go to sleep --
    To save my soul I could not keep
       My graceless mind on it!

         So I got up in anger,
        And took a book I had,
     And put a ribbon on my my hair
       To please a passing lad,
  And, "One thing there's no getting by --
     I've been a wicked girl," said I:
      "But if I can't be sorry, why,
        I might as well be glad!"
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
A charming poem, if not as brilliant as some of her other pieces. Millay was
nothing if not unconventional - encouraged towards independence of thought
from a young age, she cocks a snook at orthodox morality in a manner
somewhat reminiscent of Dorothy Parker, though far less acidly. To quote one
of her biographies, "in those first volumes Millay was the voice of
rebellious 'flaming youth,' of the young people who were bent on gathering
'figs from thistles' and burning their candles at both ends, of the girls
who claimed for themselves the free standards of their brothers."

Constructionwise, the somewhat singsong metre gives the poem a delightful
air of irreverence. I also love the playful complexity of the form, with the
varied line lengths, the occasional internal rhyme, and, for semi-personal
reasons, the abcbdddb rhyme scheme.

m.

46 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

Raphaela Best said...

When I was ten years old--I am now 77-- and had read my way past the
children's section of the local library in my hometown, a sympathetic
librarian permitted me to
read the books in the adult section. There I found among the poems of
Edna St. Vincent Millay, The Pentitent. I was not allowed to check any
adult book out of the library so I memorized this poem. To a young,
rebellious Catholic girl, it was manna from Heaven to my chained soul.
In defiance of the restrictive gender role demands inflicted on girls of
my generation, I would recite it aloud to the stars as I lay in bed at
night and to the world at large from my favorite perch in our backyard
quince tree
and feel liberated. I loved it then, I love it today.
R.

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