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Analysis and comments on An Ancient Gesture by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Comment 19 of 799, added on April 29th, 2007 at 5:19 PM.

I just have one question, what is the MEANING of this poem?

Lex from United States
Comment 18 of 799, added on March 14th, 2007 at 12:48 AM.

I always thought this poem was about the nature of making art. Who was it
that said that poetry is "emotion, recollected in tranquility?"

Millay is crying in the first stanza, but even as she cries, she notices
her own emotion, her own attitude. The crying becomes self-conscious, a
gesture that indicates grief.

Penelope though, is like most of us, going through the day without
producing anything of lasting value, going through the motions the endless
routine (weaving, unweaving, weaving, unweaving) and for what? Poetry, like
Millay's, or the epic of Ulysses, is what endures.

Yet something is lost to the poet, the directness of the emotion, of being
Penelope "who really cried"

Susan from United States
Comment 17 of 799, added on February 28th, 2007 at 1:33 PM.

I have to do an analysis of this poem for an AP english class. If anyone
knows of any good sources for critical essays or analytical papers over
this particular poem it would be greatly appreciated.

Mary from United States
Comment 16 of 799, added on February 21st, 2007 at 1:15 AM.

The gesture is Odysseus' crying. The author is obviously trying to show
that Penelope's crying is real while when Odysseus cries, it is just a
gesture or formality. The poet uses words like tradition and gesture to
describe Odyssesus' crying. The "assembled throng" is the crowd of people
that gathered to see their king and queen together. Ulysseus' crying is
just for the crowd.

hannah from United States
Comment 15 of 799, added on April 24th, 2006 at 6:53 PM.

I really enjoyed every comment and I do belive is ok to disagree without
calling people names. Next, please analyze the title and look at the
figurative meaning of this poem. Everybody went for the literary meaning.
It is an "Ancient" gesture. And that is that women are ment to tend for
their husbands. It is an "Ancient" tradition. "The apron" symbolizes the
domestic nature of women who were content to tend to their husbands.
Considering Milay's sexual orientation one might conclude that she wants to
break the traditions and not follow the "ancient" ones.
The poem is a symbolic poem that relates to the family life. One can always
try to speculate but unless you are the poet that is all one can do.

Anca from United States
Comment 14 of 799, added on March 20th, 2006 at 5:35 PM.

I agree with Martha in that the gesture is the wiping of her eyes on her
apron, but I think it's a little more than that too. It's the fact that
she IS wiping them, not just sitting there and sobbing in utter
hopelessness and misery. Penelope is very strong--not knowing if her
husband is still alive or not, but determined to stay faithful to him.
Imagine having to weave all day and unweave all night for three years; I
think I'd go completely crazy.
The point is, I don't really think that the author was referring to a lost
husband in her poem. Rather, she was referring to the fear you get when
you are fighting something that seems inevitable, and don't know if your
efforts are ever going to pay off. Penelope really didn't have any idea if
Odysseus was going to make it back or not; she operated for ten years in
uncertainty. There are times when the struggle just seems to crash down on
you all at once, and you cry because you just don't know what to do. But
the strength of Penelope, and of the author, is shown by the gesture of
wiping their eyes on their aprons. You cry, you wipe the tears and you
keep fighting. It's a kind of strength Odysseus did not possess. And
that, I believe, is what the poem is really about.

Brittani from United States
Comment 13 of 799, added on February 13th, 2006 at 7:02 PM.

The gesture is wiping tears from your eyes on your apron. Women have done
this since forever. Penelope cries because Ulysses has been gone for 20
years and she is alone at home, raising a son, ruling a kingdom and keeping
away suitors who want to force a marriage on her.She does this by weaving a
shroud during the day and unravelling it at night. Her life has been hard
without her husband. While she is struggling and not even knowing if her
husband will return, Ulysses, her husband, is off fighting monsters and
enemies, but he is also having adventures and women are loving his heroic
image. He is the hero of the poem, but when he cries, he often cries for
show. Ulysses likes being the center and will take advantage of any
situation to make himself look good. The question posed by the poem is who
has the more difficult position during war; is it the man who is away
risking his life, but living glories and receiving adulation, or is the
woman who stays at home waiting, worrying, and keeping the homeland
together? To me, Millay thinks that Penelope and all women suffer the most
and get the least credit. Wiping your eyes on your apron is an ancient
getsture, and taking an ill-deserved secondary role to the hardship of a
warrior is also an ancient role. Penelope, and all women in wartime, really
cried and still dry today; not knowing what is happening is worse than
being there.

MArtha from Australia
Comment 12 of 799, added on December 28th, 2005 at 6:46 AM.

mage's critique of this poem is right on the money.

bob wallace from United States
Comment 11 of 799, added on December 17th, 2005 at 1:31 PM.

Characters: The woman who is crying(Penelope) and the man who made her
Theme: Every gesture is made by a cause and an effect~ Cause is Odysseus
leaving effect is Penelope crying
Setting: Not positively sure but probably Ithaca
Symbols: The way "Penelope" crys is smbolic to how everybody cries and also
the way she wipes her eyes on her dress(or whatever)

By the way Kyle, your the stupid one

Maddy from United States
Comment 10 of 799, added on December 1st, 2005 at 7:41 AM.

I think there is more to the gesture than love or crying. The poem mentions
"Ulysses did this too./ But only as a gesture". If the gesture is
love, than Ulysses is simply doing it as if it is no big deal--I don't
think the poem is trying to get a message across like that. A gesture most
nearly means a movement of the part of the body, esp. a hand or the head to
express an idea or meaning. Ulysses is very much in love with
Penelope--thus why he returns home after all the sumptuous temptations he
encounters on his voyage, so why would he show just a small movement of his
love to appease the throng? Or maybe I am just not understanding the poem.

codes from United States

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Information about An Ancient Gesture

Poet: Edna St. Vincent Millay
Poem: An Ancient Gesture
Added: Feb 21 2003
Viewed: 1116 times
Poem of the Day: Sep 24 2016

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