‘Sonnet 29’-Edna St Vincent Millay


Pity me not because the light of day

At the close of day no longer walks the sky;

Pity me not for beauties passed away

From field to thicket as the year goes by;

Pity me not the waning moon,

Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,

Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,

And you no longer look with love on me.

This I have known always: Love is no more

Than the wide blossom which with the wind assails,

Than the great tide that tread the shifting shore,

Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:

Pity me that the heart is slow to learn

When the swift mind beholds at every turn.


12 thoughts on “‘Sonnet 29’-Edna St Vincent Millay

  1. Sonnet 29 (Millay)

    Edna St Vincent Millay was born in 1892 in Maine in the USA. She relished the
    sonnet form partly because she felt that the form enabled the poet to challenge her
    readers’ preconceptions about life. Most of her sonnets are about love and many
    show how much she admired Shakespeare. This sonnet first appeared in her
    collection The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems, for which she received the Pulitzer
    Prize in 1923.

    The sonnet form is the Shakespearian (or English) form with four quatrains and a
    rhyming couplet at the end. (The effects of the rhyme scheme can be contrasted with
    the Petrarchan form in the poems by Boey Kim Cheng, John Keats and Elizabeth
    Barrett Browning in the selection.)

    a. What is the effect of the structure, rhyme and repetition in the fist 6 lines?
    b. Why might people pity the woman, and why does she reject such pity?
    c. In what ways is line 8 a turning point of the poem?
    d. What is the antithesis in the last two lines an how does this help convey the theme
    of the poem?

  2. The last line… I would have used “What the swift mind…” but far be it from me to challenge any word of such a lovely sonnet. The couplet changes the view from the sorrow of natural passings to the sorrow of the poet’s unwillingness to learn that love also will fade even when she knows it intellectually. Sigh.

  3. Dont feel bad when love goes wrong. love-like everything else in this life-borns and dies, it’s unchangable. so take it as a natural way. the end of love is painful, but that’s the truth: love is not forever

    1. Love might be a total abstraction -just an idea, and, yes, even if we could say it is a feeling it doesn’t last forever. Nothing does.

  4. coreachick,
    I would differ: love is more than an abstraction, that would not hold for anyone “in love'” or driven “by love”. It’s a powerful feeling (even if temporal). The real question is, what is love? Love is notoriously hard to define and comes in many flavors, and most of the world’s literature and art is an attempt to capture it. C.S Lewis famously defined FOUR LOVES, I would count at least seven. One working definition, “concern for the other at the expense of self” covers a multitude of variations such as maternal love, patriotism, religious devotion and more and more. Millay is read today because she beautifully delineates erotic love with excellent technical skills within the strictures of the sonnet form. And erotic love is one of the more potent and ubiquitous emotions we know so her appeal is widespread and relevant. This love may be transitory but when in play grips deep.

  5. The ‘when’ in the closing line is an error. Millay wrote What. The Cambridge Songs of Ourselves Anthology has at least two errors of this kind, the other on the preceding page, in Elizabeth Barrett Browning’s sonnet 43, where the original ‘I shall but love thee better after death’ becomes ‘after my death’…

    1. Wow, thanks for the heads up on that one! It sort of changes things a little, doesn’t it? I thought there was something different about Sonnet 43 – especially when reading the last line…the mystery has been solved. Thank you.

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