"[I, being born a woman and distressed]" by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnet, “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed,” serves as an excellent example of a multi-faceted piece. From one angle, it is simply a Petrarchan sonnet, written with a slight variation on rhyme scheme – but that variation, taken deeper, reveals new layers of meaning. Added to Millay’s choice of meter and end-stop, along with a background of Millay’s person, this sonnet seems not so “simple” after all. Millay, though she married in 1923, was known to have extramarital affairs, purportedly with both women and men. In the context of this particular sonnet, such seems revealing indeed – for it seems the speaker of the sonnet is involved in some sort of affair. Or perhaps Millay’s sonnet is addressed to her husband, for it was published in 1923; however, that seems unlikely, since the sonnet frames a rejection of her lover. More likely, I see it as a final ‘goodbye’ to her lover before marriage, for she “find[s] this frenzy insufficient reason” to continue seeing him (or her). Though Millay had an “open” marriage – that is, she and her husband consented to each other’s affairs – she likely did not want to begin her marriage with two lovers. This poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay is quite short and to the point. Millay wrote during a time when the discussion of female sexuality in poetry was extremely controversial, particularly when it involved the sort of free-spirited messages which Millay's writing often did. In this poem, she discusses her inability to view a partner as more than someone to hook up with. Although she had fun during her time with him, she does not find "this frenzy insufficient reason/ For conversation when [they] meet again." She starts the poem by stresses that she was born female therefore couldn’t change her sex and because of her gender she is faced with problems and discrimination. Also she makes it clear that this poem is from a female point of view. The by saying that she’s distressed, she attracts sympathy from her audience and makes it seem as though she is a victim of her sex. Further in the poem she talks to her lover rather than us. She continues to talk to him for the next couple of lines too. “Your person fair, and feel a certain zest” tells him that he’s rather good-looking and that she is beginning to get a bit restless to do certain adult things with him… It then changes from talking about Him to talking about how futile relationships really are Also in this poem, Millay discusses the idea of a separation between lust and mindful thinking Then, she tells us the consequences of this lust “And leave me once again undone, possessed.” Undone may either refer to her falling apart after she realises that he doesn’t love her back, or she’s literally left undone (her clothes anyway). Possessed is similar because it could either mean that she is, or could be, being controlled by him i.e. Patriarchal society. Or it refers to her being so in love she’d do anything without a second thought. . It is then after this, that we come to the break where we see her changing from being helpless and the submissive one in the relationship to the strong and dominant one. In other words, her strong, beating blood every time he was near (the lust) against her staggering brain, (the not-thinking-straight) and it was like the two were battling it out to see who would win. By the looks of things, the brain did, eventually. Part of this is also parenthesis. She has taken back control of the relationship and that it actually means nothing anymore. She basically says to him “just because we’ve had sex, it doesn’t mean I love you”. She continues on with this idea as such: “My scorn with pity, - let me make it plain” I.e. she won’t be nice to him, she’s enjoying being the dominant one now, and she is mocking the relationship by mocking it. In other words, she isn’t going to talk to him again, and this shows she’s...
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