(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!"
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.