Analyzing What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

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Jessie Teskey

In Edna St Vincent Millay’s Petrarchan sonnet “What lips my lips have kissed”, the speaker talks about past lovers that are in her life no more. 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. This is shown in the different metaphors the poet uses to convey feelings specifically of her memory and absents in her life. The form of this sonnet is a Petrarchan sonnet, the first eight lines being the octave and the last six lines being the sestet. The rhyming pattern is abbaabba cdedce, and the change of the rhyme pattern in this sonnet signifies a change in her perspective, along with a change in the imagery and tone of the poem. In the first line “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why”(1) she repeats the sound of the first letters: W’s and the L’s. She is doing this to connect the repetition of the sounds, with the repetition of the lovers she has kissed. Furthermore the poem has the effect of a personal story but also carries out a light formal rhyming pattern of echoes, signifying the echoes of her past lovers. In the Octave, the speaker expresses her feelings of intimacy she shared with past partners. She reminisces of numerous love affairs from her younger days. The speaker enjoyed her time with multiple men rather than actually being in love with one. She expresses her feelings from an internal perspective, almost as if she is speaking aloud. The speaker begins the poem by saying “What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why /I have forgotten.”(1-2) She refers to multiple lips as opposed to individual lovers lips. This gives the reader imagery of pleasure and sets the wistful tone of the sonnet. The speaker uses...
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