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What Lips My Lips Have Kissed


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What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

“What my lips have kissed,” is a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay written in the year 1923. The poet speaks of several items she had love on and the despair she experienced with the saddened ending. The poet employs various aspects of a sonnet to convey the message. The sonnet contains a proper structure, turns, mood and an exceptional use of metaphors. The sonnet has two major underlying themes, which are the themes of change and loss. The theme of change can be identified in the season imagery employed by the poet. The theme of loss can be identified throughout the entire poem but is mostly evident in the last few lines.

The poet employs both traditional and contemporary form and content structure in coming up with this modern Italian sonnet. The structure of the sonnet is characterized by an octave containing the traditional rhyme scheme of an Italian sonnet. This is however, mixed with variations of the sestet. One distinct feature is the lack of a rhyming couplet in the last two lines. The poet employs contemporary styles by using run-on lines in the sonnet’s octave. The run-on lines have the distinct effect of having the rhyme lost in the middle of the sentences. This is known as the use of caesura and enjambment. This art style has the effect of creating a flowing feeling to the reader or audience as the poet describes her lovers. The poet also employs contemporary styles in displaying the content. We see the poet taking pride in the high number of lovers she has amassed or experienced over the course of her life. This goes against the norm of a traditional sonnet, which usually gives praise to a single lover.

The underlying argument of the poet is distorted on two separate incidents. This is mainly found where a turn alters the flow of ideas. In the first octave of the sonnet, we see the poet giving a vivid description of her passionate encounters on an intimate and personal level. She manages to engage the audience in a more personal level by narrating her deepest feelings frankly in a more concrete manner. The poet then shifts away the focus of the sonnet from herself by refraining from referring directly to herself. She does this by indirectly referring to herself using metaphors. This drastic shift is mainly evidenced in lines eight and nine. By taking a closer look at the end of the sonnet, it is easy to identify another shift between lines eleven and twelve. The poet resumes back into directly addressing herself. She now stops using metaphors and resumes in engaging the audience at a more personal and intimate level. This is the part where we see the poet taking account of her past life, which include her loves and her losses. The poet effectively ties the seasonal imagery used in the thirteenth and fourteenth lines to the metaphors employed in the poem.

The metaphor used in the poem plays a major role in the overall content of the sonnet. The sonnet provides the reader with an abstract mental picture of the poet’s situation and her shattered passionate state. The metaphor is first employed in the ninth line where the poet refers to herself as, “the lonely tree” in this metaphor. The past lovers of the poet are represented by the bids flocking the tree while the tree’s boughs are taken to represent the poet’s bed. The loneliness of the poet is illustrated by the manner in which all the birds flocking a tree suddenly abandon it as they fly south in the winter. This seasonal imagery clearly illustrates how the writer is suddenly left all alone in her bed by her lovers. This seasonal imagery does not last until the end as it is suddenly altered between the eleventh and twelfth lines. During this episode, the writer depicts the turning of the seasons from summer to winter. The writer however, uses summer to illustrate the stark differences between the two periods. She uses the contrasting imagery between the period of summer and of winter to illustrate the contrast in her love affairs. Summer is mainly identified with light, happiness and warmth whereas winter is associated with dreariness and depression.

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