Literature in English 2010-2011
Edna St. Vincent Millay “Sonnet 29”
Rabya Hasan and Taimoor Mahmood
21st March, 2011
In the poem “Sonnet 29” by Edna ST. Vincent Millay, it shows that the poet realizes the fact that the one she loves did not love her long enough, however, as much as her mind knows this her heart refuses to accept the reality of the situation. In the first six lines of this poem, the poet repeatedly says “Pity me not” as if to tell the reader that they should in no way feel guilty about anything and in turn feel bad for her. Instances such as “Pity me not because the light of day At close of day no longer walks” explains that the happiness that the light of day brings does not stay for long and indirectly one can not grasp onto something for a lengthy period of time as somehow, some day, its time to go will arrive. To whomever Millay is referring to is someone who she dearly cares about because the way she prevents them from pitying her is almost expressed in a soothing yet sad manner. Perhaps she herself is deeply hurt yet Millay’s tone shows that she refuses to let the person feel her pain as it would probably sadden them even more. She also writes “Pity me not for beauties passed away From field to thicket as the year goes by” and “Pity me not the waning of the moon Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea” and all these examples have one thing in common and that is of something flowing away or fading out and leaving its once original place. By that she gives a clue that she has written this for someone who she dearly loves, but their love for her seemed to have faded away and finished out.
Millay continues to say “Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon And you no longer look with love to me” and this seems to be a more direct approach as now it is clear that the one she is referring to has lost all his love for her however it is not worth it to pity her because it is expected by her that all men fall out of love. She considers this to be a natural change, exactly as the other examples are all causes of natures themselves, for example the sun light ending at the end of the day, the moon getting smaller, the tide flowing away, and the beautiful fields turning into undergrowth after some time. Her tone does slightly change as now Millay must be feeling pity for herself rather as she slowly starts realizing the fact that the man she loves does not feel for her in the same way anymore.
In the 8th line, she says “This have I known always: Love is no more Than the wide blossom which the wind assails”. This line shows how she has started viewing love in a different way as now it is nothing but a flower that seems to just flow wherever the wind guides it. This change portrays a different image as initially she was referring to peaceful cases of nature but now everything seems to have increasingly saddened. Millay then writes “Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore, strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales” and here she compares love to something more violent. The water in this image is pulling along wreckage and in her experience, the break up she went through left only upsetting memories. She indirectly tells one that it was known by her that the love she and her lover once shared would end in some way. The atmosphere created in these lines is destructive and more chaotic, and by this it is apparent that Millay has started to feel slightly angry and being depressed at the same time. Her change of tone makes the reader have an even clearer idea of what she is going through and how she is feeling inside.
In the last two lines, it is told “Pity me that the heart is slow to learn When the swift mind beholds at every turn”. The whole objective that the first six lines tried to achieve has changed here as now she rather have it that the reader pity her. Millay, however, is talking about a different pity here. She wants one to pity her not for her pain but to pity her for being naïve towards something she clearly knew was going to happen. Millay also feels bad for herself as she did not react to something she knew was coming, and somewhat allowed it to happen. Her former attitude caused her to be hurt badly and in turn ended up making her regret her foolishness.
This sonnet of Millay’s could have been written after she had a break up and in order to express all her hidden sadness she decided to write them out. Comparing the love her lover once shared to nature gives a clearer thought of how it diminished away. As it is normal for everything in nature to finish and then disappear, and start over again, Millay says that the love men share for women finish as quickly as their love for women start. This cycle goes round and round, however it always ends somewhere to start somewhere else. Her thought process does seem biased but it could perhaps only be the effect of her break up that created such a bitter image of men in her mind. Over all, Millay does seem quite confused as she is unable to decide what she is aiming for and would rather have all just pity her instead. However, the poet does give a reasonable reason to why one should pity her, and it is not only because of the pain and depression she feels but also because of her being ignorant towards something she clearly knew about yet something that her heart disagreed to understand.