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Sonnet XLIII -- Edna St Vincent Millay

Guest poem submitted by Jose de Abreu:
(Poem #590) Sonnet XLIII
 What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
 I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
 Under my head till morning; but the rain
 Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
 Upon the glass and listen for reply,
 And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
 For unremembered lads that not again
 Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

 Thus in winter stands the lonely tree,
 Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
 Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
 I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
 I only know that summer sang in me
 A little while, that in me sings no more.
-- Edna St Vincent Millay
I'm truly indebted to the minstrels for introducing me to the works of Edna
St Vincent Millay. I like her poems for their sweet and simple nature, with
often a tinge of sorrow; and today's poem is no exception.


[thomas adds]

On content: While I don't _quite_ share Martin's (and Jose's, evidently)
fondness for Millay, I do like this poem: images like 'the lonely tree' and
'the rain ... full of ghosts' are utterly enchanting. Perhaps it has
something to do with the time of year - Millay's gentle melancholy slots
perfectly into a cold and rainy October like the one we're having right now.

On form: Today's sonnet is cast in the classic Petrarchan form, of which
Britannica has this to say:

"The Petrarchan sonnet characteristically treats its theme in two parts. The
first eight lines, the  octave, state a problem, ask a question, or express
an emotional tension. The last six lines, the sestet, resolve the problem,
answer the question, or relieve the tension. The octave is rhymed abbaabba.
The rhyme scheme of the sestet varies; it may be cdecde, cdccdc, or cdedce
... In most cases the form [is] adapted to the staple metre of the
language--e.g., the alexandrine (12-syllable iambic line) in France and
iambic pentameter in English."

        -- EB

Although I wouldn't call the sestet of today's poem a resolution, it
certainly betokens a quietude that's absent in the octave...


63 comments: ( or Leave a comment )

sandi_ordinario said...

Millay is fast becoming my favorite poetess. I might
venture to say her poems are a cross between the
lyrical-ity of Sarah Teasdale's and the insidious
profundity of Emily Dickinson's.

The first stanza portrays the poet on a lonely, rainy
night thinking about lost loves and their inevitable
attendant pain. How many of these, we do not know. It
certainly points to her promiscuity. "For unremembered
lads that not again, Will turn to me at midnight with
a cry."

The second stanza is a repeat of the theme in the first
one, but now the imagery is that of a lonely tree in
winter. The tree 'feels' nostalgia in "quiet pain" as
it thinks of vanished birds that once rested on its
boughs and like that in the first stanza can't recall
"what loves have come and gone."

The last 2 lines provide one with the apex of Millay's
artistry and depth. Needs no explanation.
" I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more."


Melissa said...

Hi Sandi my name is Melissa and I found your comments on a website about "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed". I was wondering if you had some time if you could possibly give me some insight to this poem. I have a paper due next month about it and I was just needing some other peoples layout of what exactly she is trying to get the reader to understand. Thanks for your time.

John Flanagan said...

Line 9 of this beautiful sonnet is usually printed as:
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
which scans correctly.

This sonnet is given various numbers in different printings.
In the "Collected Poems" 1956, Buccaneer Books,
Edited by Norma Millay, it is xlii.

John Flanagan said...

Line 9 of this beautiful sonnet is usually printed as:
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
which scans correctly.

This sonnet is numbered differently in different printings.
In "Edna St. Vincent Millay: Collected Poems", edited by
Norma Millay, Buccaneer Books, 1956, it is xlii.

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