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Analysis and comments on What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII) by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Comment 19 of 129, added on May 11th, 2006 at 6:39 AM.

I have loved this poem since I was 18 and at college and it still touches
my soul in an inexplicably tender way today, even more so, now that I am
60. "What lips my lips have kissed"...all those she has loved, fleetingly,
lingeringly, passionately, or casually...where and why, who knows...but she
wonders where they are, and in her heart there is a quiet pain of longing
for those moments of tenderness and passion.
For they have all gone, and she is alone...in the winter of her years, a
tree barren of its foliage, it's beauty faded and bare. No birds singing in
the branches. She feels the pain of silence and solitude. But yet, despite
the loneliness, she remembers that once summer sang in her, that she was
vibrant, desired alive and loved...and these memories sustain her to the
I came across Edna St Vincent Millay's poems as a teenager and nobody in my
circle had ever heard of her, then...but I loved her energy and sensuality
and still do today. This is my favourite poem.I am amazed that there is so
much interest in her work today.

Berenice from Australia
Comment 18 of 129, added on April 6th, 2006 at 4:41 PM.

she talks about the lads, last to my knowledge there were no women that
were lads.

Micheal from Belgium
Comment 17 of 129, added on February 20th, 2006 at 10:05 PM.

I was enthralled with this poem when I first read it. Millay excells at
nostalgic verse. If anyone cares to discuss her poetry with me, feel free
to email.

Joy from United States
Comment 16 of 129, added on February 6th, 2006 at 7:39 PM.

I understand for the most part the symbolic meaning of the pems and i
presume that the mood/feeling is a flashback memeory type of feeling but is
this poem written in iambic pentameter and does line eight have a sexual
allusion: "turn to me at midnight with a cry" supposed to be an orgasm?????
Can anyone also help me understand and interpret the poem and tone better?

Plz email if someone can help: pynklady@sbcglobal.net

Sam from United States
Comment 15 of 129, added on January 13th, 2006 at 12:35 PM.

This is a poem obviously on her bisexual feelings... I mean, "What lips
have I kissed"? or whatever? I get it. Me, being a bisexual myself gets it.

Sarah Mathers--lol from Canada
Comment 14 of 129, added on November 7th, 2005 at 4:51 PM.

What is the imagery in his poem?
I'm so confused...

Sandra from Canada
Comment 13 of 129, added on September 22nd, 2005 at 3:35 PM.

I need to write an essay on the defamiliarization of this poem any ideas??

Sarah from Canada
Comment 12 of 129, added on September 18th, 2005 at 7:55 AM.

I think this poem by Edna is remembering her promiscuous youth and
contemplating her free-spiritness. The poem describes Edna as a 'lonely
tree' who's companions have vanished over time. Edna speaks of her past
lovers as 'ghosts' and refers to them as 'lips' - showing no concern as to
who she was with.
At the time the poem was written, Edna was 29 years old. I think that
because of her young age, Edna must have considered her marriage, later
that year, to be spelling the end of her unconditional 'fun'. I think she
wrote the poem with an 'this is the end of my life as I know it' attitude.
And she acknowledges the fact that she may no longer be desirable to the
people she once shared a bed with.

Matt from United Kingdom
Comment 11 of 129, added on July 9th, 2005 at 11:30 AM.

Millay's life and activism are extraordinary, but they should have little
impact on our reading of this poem. Inserting biographical information
into a poem is like wondering if Tom Cruise and Nichole Kidman's real
relationship was on the rocks when they made Eyes Wide Shut: it doesn't
matter to the performance. The speaker in a sonnet is much like an actor
delivering a dramatic monologue.

Here, the focus of the poem is simple, deep and devastating. An older woman
is haunted by the lovers of her youth because she no longer feels
desirable, and she cannot have them back again. Around this simple focus
is a complexity of sexual views and relationships. The quest for true love
doesn't enter the picture -- the boys have no identities and no single one
made a deep impression on the speaker, and the speaker is not bothered by
this. What she is haunted by is not the absence of love, but rather the
absence of lovers. She has had her conquests -- (and at this point we
might reflect on what a bold social statement this was in the 1920's) --
but her conquests are behind her.

In addition to Herrick's "To the Virgins", check out the passages in The
Waste Land about the hyacinth girl and the typist.

Topher Hemann from United States
Comment 10 of 129, added on May 2nd, 2005 at 11:19 AM.

Millay writes in her journal, “What life I have lived I have lived doubly,
actually and symbolically” (Epstein 91). At that time, Millay was living
two lives, the grown up life with Arthur Hooley and her school life with
the women she was sexually involved with. Epstein writes, “Then there was
her sex life on campus, which she pursued with gusto, with ingenuity, with
a vengeance. Does that sound like a strong, independent woman to you? Yes!
How many women in that time would have been so open with their sexuality?
Not many. I find that Millay must have been torn though, between her two
lives. The two lives she was living were very different, but I believe that
Millay liked it that way, because it was risky. Millay lived on the edge of
her time.
Millay in her youth loved her life. She had relations with men and women.
Millay looks back on her past life in the poem “What Lips My Lips Have
Kissed.” No wonder she says, “And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain /
For unremembered lads that not again” (6-7). She remembers the sexual
experiences of her past and realizes that they are past, and may not come
again. She is sorrowful, feeling a “quiet pain.” I read that Millay was
married in 1923, the same year that she wrote this poem. Maybe Millay was
sad because she was going to say goodbye to the excitement of her past. It
then raised the question, if she is so sad to leave her past behind, why is
she? Was it the pressure of society? I can’t imagine lesbianism being
accepted in her time, so was she marrying to please society? I also can not
see Millay doing this. In her poems and journals you see a strong and
independent woman, someone who doesn’t conform to society, so then why
would she?

Coleen from United States

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Information about What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII)

Poet: Edna St. Vincent Millay
Poem: What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII)
Added: Feb 21 2003
Viewed: 37075 times
Poem of the Day: Sep 7 2012

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