Interpretation of Poem “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed and Where and Why” – Edna ST. Vincent Millay
Millay uses a variety of poetic devices such as, imagery, tone, and metaphor. She uses imagery of pleasure, intimate love, and nature. Her tone alters throughout the poem from feelings of wistfulness in the octave, to loneliness and abandonment in the sestet. The sestet signifies a shift from the speakers internal to external perspective.
Edna St. Vincent Millay uses the difference between summer and winter to represent the utter contrast she goes through. Millay uses summer to correlate with a period of contentment, brightness, and affection; however, winter is used to correlate with monotonous, misery, and an emptiness. The changes in the seasons mirror the emotional state of the central figure of the narrative before and after the ménage à trois. The sonnet also uses personification, in lines nine to eleven, to reinforce Millay’s feeling of sadness in connection with her past. “Thus in winter stands the lonely tree, nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, yet knows its boughs more silent than before”. Millay, more or less, indicates that she is the “lonely tree” and that she has solitarily endured summer and winter, while lovers, affection, and cheerful experiences have come and gone. Essentially, Millay conveys the heartache she feels using a leafless tree in the midst of winter to that formerly had ample with birds singing in harmony, which symbolize the pure enjoyment that once was.
The speaker is tormented by the loss of her memories of love and regrets having loved at all. Millay purposefully uses the form of an Italian sonnet, a form that traditionally honors and exalts love, to question whether it is worth it to love at all.
The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Allison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. 10th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010. Print.
Millay, Edna St. Vincent. "What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why." Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Harper & Brothers Publishers, 1956. Print. .
The Norton Introduction to Literature. Ed. Allison Booth and Kelly J. Mays. 10th ed. New York, NY: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2010. 841. Print.