What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why: Explication

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What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why: Explication

By | Jan. 2008
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An effective short poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, What Lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, portrays the dissonance between ideal young love and aged heartbreak. Millay starts this theme by looking back on the affairs she has had and realizes she has aged, "What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten…" (1-2). Then Millay explains how her past lovers continue to haunt her, "…but the rain is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh upon the glass and listen for reply", once again the reader gets the impression of an aged author (3-5). Millay expresses her grief in remembering her past young love, "And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain for unremembered lads that not again will turn to me at midnight with a cry", using lads reinforce the fact that she remembers her young love (6-8). The poem goes on to express loneliness and heartbreak through a tree metaphor, "Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, yet knows its boughs more silent than before:" (9-11). Millay's mention of winter refers to stillness, age, and death and trees usually represent growth, but in the winter, they do not have any growth. This represents Millay's present state. The fact that all the birds have left her branches and everything has become silent reinforces Millay's feeling of unwanted solitude. The poem's last statement gets across that the lovers Millay had in her lifetime have left her, "I only know that summer sang in me a little while, that in me sings no more" (13-14). Summer usually represents youth and aliveness, but now Millay does not have that feeling, so she has become an old lonely woman.

Ironically Millay wrote this poem in sonnet form, which usually has a feeling of romance and love, and this poem portrays Millay as a lonely woman who had love in her life, but can now barely remember the lads she romanced with. This poem portrays more of an anti-sonnet.

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