Explore the ways in which “Sonnet 29” by Edna St Vincent Millay explores the thoughts of the poet.
Throughout the poem ‘Sonnet 29’ written by Edna St Vincent Millay there are many instances where comparative measures in the form of metaphors are used to successfully explore the thoughts and main messages regarding the pain and suffering love causes, which is expressed by the poet throughout the piece. Comparative techniques in the form of matching natural elements with the personalities of men and the concept of love are used to allow the audience to feel a sense of belonging and self-realisation as well as allowing the readers to relate to her personal experiences. Also, the conflicts between her mind and heart further help clarify her views on love.
In the first four lines, love is compared to ‘beauties passed away’. This refers to the degradation of love, and this is further emphasised in the next line. She describes the degradation of love as it changes ‘From field to thicket’. The term field refers to what may once have been an orderly and well tended plot, to ‘thicket’ which is an overgrown, uncared for patch of land, conveying how her love has been slowly broken down, and turned into a mess. As it takes a long time for a field to become a thicket, Millay insinuates that this slow dilapidation of love is painful as she has to endure that pain until the wound heals, and it takes a long time for it to do so.
Love, and its continually fading power and influence is expressed in the next four sentences, and it is compared to moonlight. It is shown when ‘the waning of the moon’ prove that the moonlight is gradually decreasing in power, and demonstrates a continuing loss of power and love. Immediately after the description of the moon, it is said that ‘the ebbing tide goes out to sea’, where the ebbing tide refers to the gradually weakening marriage and romance between Millay and her lover, as the bond pulling the tide and essentially, bonding the two together, is diminishing. Millay blames this weakening romance on the the masculine side of the relationship, as this fading love is due to ‘a man’s desire hushed so soon’, insinuating that her husband’s desire for her is removed so early in the relationship, and this is substantiated further when her husband ‘no longer look[s] with love’ on her.
However, despite blaming her lovers, she decides that she is strong enough to accept her loss of love, ‘This I have known always: Love is no more’ implies that she has known that love was always going to end, and she believes that love fading away is part of its nature. Afterwards, Millay compares love to a ‘wide blossom which the wind assails’. The wind represents her lovers, which violently assaults the love-representing blossom, and the fact that it is wide, indicates that it traps a lot of wind, and therefore the wider the blossom, i.e., the greater the love, the harder one will fall, as there is more wind attempting to ruin the blossom, and the more pain he or she will suffer. Subsequently Millay once again portrays man as a ‘great tide that treads the shifting shore’, where the tide plays the role of man, and the shore as love. The term tide allows the reader to imagine a wave, which is powerful and destructive, and as it treads along the shifting shore, it destroys the shifting shore, which symbolises the slow, painful erosion of their love for each other, which seems to be continually fluctuating.
Following this metaphor, Millay further describes love as ‘strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales’. The fresh wreckage describes love as an trash which is slowly broken down, and scattered away, and therefore Millay believes that love is pointless and worthless, while the term ‘gathering’ suggests that this love is slowly breaking down and is being collected. Once again, Millay truly feels that love is also a process which causes pain, from which it takes a long time to recover. There is also a sense of disconnection between the heart and mind despite her understanding and reality of how love consistently ends in the last couplet. Millay describes that ‘the heart is slow to learn’ and still wants to become engaged with such intimacy, while compromising and stubbornly, almost naïvely, neglecting the logical thoughts of the mind when ‘the swift mind beholds at every turn.’.
Millay’s discontent and anger regarding love and her relationships are expressed through the comparative measures used in her essay, where love is represented as a soft delicate part of nature, while her husbands and men who she may have had relationships with as destructive forces. The metaphors used in these comparative measures repeatedly express the pain she endures as the relationship and bonds that held her relationships together never seemed to last, thus compelling her to feel that love is a time-wasting and worthless emotion.
Word Count: 816 (w/o the question)
Original Mark: 16/20