Literature Review of Edna St Vincent Millay’s Poem.
This poem is a Petrarchan sonnet, illustrated by the fundamental break in the 14 line poem dividing it into two sections. The first eight stanzas (octave) and the last six stanzas (setset) form a rhyme scheme ABBAABBA CDECDE. The break between the octave and the setset shifts the tone from reflective to remorseful.
The first line “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,” is indicative of a reflective tone. Millay starts the first stanza by recalling past loves. She cannot remember in detail the people she has kissed, why and where thereby does not divulge details of any past lovers. The use of interrogative words such as what, where and why clearly indicate that the kisses were in the past. She is reminiscing of the old loves lost.
In line 9, the poet compares herself to a tree in the wintertime to signify her lonely status. Just like a tree struggling to survive in the snow season, the poet is alone with no lover in the present moment. Loves from the past forgotten.
The poem generally depicts a sad mood. The slight pause in the 13th and 14th line emphasized by the use of a comma shows the distress and challenges faced by the poet. The comma enhances the sad tone when the poet declares that his/her happiness is no more and it appears he/she will not find love. Each line but one contain words in past tense like sang, unremembered and kissed. In the last stanza, the poet uses present tense sings. This shift in tense highlights that the poem is a reflection of the poets past and the use of melancholic vocabulary like pain, forgotten and lonely indicates that he/she is saddened by how the past events have affected the present.