Sonnet 29:Pity Me Not By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sonnet 29 • By Edna St Vincent Millay Pity me not because the light of day At 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 of the 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 the wind assails, Than the great tide which treads 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.
Background Information • Edna St Vincent Millay was born on February 22, 1892 and had two sisters. • In 1904 Millay’s mother officially divorced her father for financial irresponsibility, but they had been separated for some years prior. • Millay had relationships with many people. • Many of her works, including Sonnet 29, were in the traditional Shakespearean sonnet form, containing two stanzas of an octave and a sestet, respectively. • Her marriage lasted, disproving her theory that relationships naturally die, as reflected in her poems. • Sonnet 29 is also known as ‘Pity Me Not’.
A Study of Edna Millay. NOTE: This is Millay.
Gradual tendency towards emotional and violent words, away from rationalisation and logical thought. • This is a sonnet – Octave (with 2 quatrains) and Sestet (with a quatrain and a rhyming couplet) A B A B C D C D E F E F G G • Pity me not because the light of day • At 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 of the 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 the wind assails, • Than the great tide which treads the shifting shore, • Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales; • Pity me that the heart is slow tolearn • When the swift mind beholds at every turn.
Pity me not because the light of dayAt close of day no longer walks the sky; • “the light of day” – a symbol of the warmth that love brings to one’s life. • Followed immediately by ”close of day” – to emphasise that Millay’s view of love is fleeting/momentary. • “no longer walks the sky” – the warmth from love fades with time and this loss is as inevitable as sunset. The sense of loss is made more powerful in this line by the use of the word “walks”, as to walk suggests a comfortable pace and this action ceases to happen.] • The idea of time or a passage of time is hinted here where “walks” suggest a sense of carefree and lingering notion that these relationships progress and deteriorate over an extended period of time.
Pity me not for beauties passed awayFrom field to thicket asthe year goes by • “beauties passed away” – suggests the superficial nature of love. • Why “beauties”? - Millay hints at the ageing process here and the fact that she thinks superficial love will disappear with the onset of ageing. • “field to thicket” – as a field turns to a thicket if untended, a relationship decays rapidly once the love is no longer there to support it. • “the year goes by” – hints at the seasons, especially with the mention of a field. This is turn suggests that love changes dramatically over time as the seasons change and differ from one another. • Why “year”? – this suggests at again, the extended period of time over which a relationship is predicted (by Millay) to deteriorate.
Pity me not the waning of the moon,Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea, • “waning of the moon” – The moon here is a powerful image as it reinforces the idea of love changing and being inconsistent. • Also reinforces the idea of love as cyclical and doomed to fade with time. As a moon waxes and wanes (makes its appearance more visible), love relationships will germinate and die, like the ebbing/low tides out to sea and the high tides coming in. • The moonlight here is a sensuous setting as a base for her love relationships – It is paradoxical that Millay describes the moon to convey a romantic mood, but yet only ingrains the detriments and distresses of love. • The waning can be seen as a loss of romance. • “ebbing tide goes out to sea” – represents the departure of love from the relationship. It washes and removes away any remnants of the romance.
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,And you no longer look with love on me. • “a man’s desire is hushed so soon” – further suggests the shallowness of love. • “no longer look with love” – hints that the man involved does indeed look at Millay, but perhaps with scorn and distaste. This further reinforces the shallowness of love. • These two lines are powerful in expressing Millay’s cynicism and disapproval of love as it has seemingly drastic emotional repercussions on the woman. Millay suggests here that the passing of love or the end of a man’s desire is a natural part of human life. However, she is much resigned, and not (yet) begging for the reader’s sympathy, as she declares “Pity me not” – the emotional torment has long finished.
This I have known always: Love is no more • “this have I know always” – indicates shifting of emphasis away from what not to pity. This line also lacks the “pity me not” which is common in previous lines. This further adds to her resigned tone. • “love is no more” – seamless transition with the previous line but indicates changes. Parallel with “no longer look with love” • This moment is a pivotal point for Millay, as the descriptions of the cyclical nature of love and its death has finished – the reader awaits for an explanation for Millay’s resigned tone which comes next.
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails, • “blossom” – a symbol representing the beauty and liveliness (and possibly fertility) of a flower. The adjective “wide” suggests the all encompassing greatness of the flower which represents love. This combined creates a sense of vitality of love from associated words with blossom such as blooming. • Blossoms have connotations of happiness and prosperity of love – another contradiction with Millay’s theory that love is nothing but a stress. • “wind assails” – ”assails” means attacks vehemently. This shows the brutality and coldness in which destiny, represented by the wind, handles the blossom. ”wind” has an unpredictable nature as does destiny, a superhuman force steering the direction of love. Together it represents that love and the emotions involved are not within human control and that it can be crushed easily as destiny is not kind ”assails”. • Here, wind is less cyclical and more capricious, with a tendency to change unexpectedly – this reflects Millay’s emotional mood and her proclivity to vacillate between rational ideas and emotional feelings. Nevertheless, the poem does progress to become increasingly violent in imagery. • Together, these two halves of the line suggest that the more love you have for a person ( a wider blossom) then the harder destiny (the wind) will beat down on you.
Than the great tide which treads the shifting shore, • “great tide” –this hints that it is unable to be stopped, and also at the magnificence of love at its greatest. The idea of cycles and repetition is hinted again in the tidal cycle. However “shifting” reinforces the idea of fluctuation and a decomposition or collapse of the cyclical nature of love, and reflects that Millay’s rational/logical mind is being progressively dominated by her emotional turmoil • Furthermore there is contrast with “blossom” as love now plays the active part and treads the shore, hinting at its shaping the human that falls in love. This is also a contrast to the previous “ebbing tide” and other than contrasting the difference between fresh love and love which has passed through time it also helps to show the tend towards violence and emotion that the poem begins to acquire. • “treads” – has meaning of crushing with the feet, a rather violent action. This shows the crude and violent nature of love’s ability to shape people represented by the “shore”. Also it shows that humans are helpless under its great tide. It also further reinforces the idea that love is not constant, that is always on the move and changing.
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales • “strewing” – means to scatter over a surface. This tells us about the untidiness and general disregard in the action throwing debris randomly. This helps to build up the atmosphere of destruction and dereliction which links back to the previous words “tread” and “assail” – violent imagery. • “wreckage” – represents the emotional states of lovers, and draws back to the references to the sea (“tides” and so on). It is described as fresh which hints it is constantly being replenished for it to be fresh/new. This means that heartbreak is constantly happening and emotional turmoil is constantly being reinstated. The idea of dilapidation and decay links back to lines 1-6, however it is slightly different as wreckage signifies something almost completely destroyed instead of slightly deteriorated: this further shows the reader the transition to violence in terms of the poem. • Instead, the “wreckage” may metaphorically suggest Millay sees herself as being attacked/abused by the emotional storm – this term is not natural at all, as it is the only man-made noun throughout the whole poem. • “gales” – means a strong wind. This is a transition from simply “wind” and links to idea of violence from “assail” etc. Because it is parallel to wind naturally wreckage can be drawn parallel to “blossom”, hence illustrating the destructive nature of love. Alliteration is present: “gathered in the gales”. The change from “wind” to “gales” further shows the change from a calm tone to a more emotional tone. • After all this the reader would ponder upon the fact that if Millay had predicted in such a mathematical manner that these finales to love are so rational and predictable – what is the reason behind her outburst of torment in the above 3 lines? (Read on to see more)
Pity me that the heart is slow to learnWhen the swift mind beholds at every turn • . • “Pity me” – a contrast to the “Pity me not” of previous lines. This releases the anticipation which has been built up to this point and results in an effective climax. • “heart is slow to learn…swift mind beholds at every turn” – the heart is linked to instinct and intuition while the mind is linked to logical thought and versatility. Millay is saying that although she knows that she should not be heartbroken as she was expecting this to happen, she still feels anguish and heart-broken. • The rhyming couplet is the major climax to the poem – it is indeed a surprise. In the earlier octave, Millay is asking her readers not to pity her as she reasons that it is a natural and cyclical end. But, here is where she expresses her true emotional pain, and is indeed asking for sympathy. Though she has knowledge of such endings, she succumbs to her emotions and laments that she still feels pain in her heart. • Though she charts out her rationales behind the cyclical love in the octave, the sestet’s quatrain summarises her genuine emotional pain- the emotional violence which emerges in spite of all her previous rationalisations.
Food for Thought... • EXAM QUESTIONS: • Mock Exam
The End • Important Note: • This is The End.