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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 25 of 145, added on January 18th, 2010 at 6:04 PM.

I cried with this poem. It's so moving, so dramatic.

Bridgette from Czech Republic
Comment 24 of 145, added on November 16th, 2009 at 7:55 AM.

We should always cherish the people around us,including own lovers.

Elaine from China
Comment 23 of 145, added on May 11th, 2008 at 3:11 AM.

I burst into tears when i first read this poem. So sad!

Deborah from United States
Comment 22 of 145, added on January 25th, 2008 at 10:07 AM.

it can mean so many things!!!!!!!

olivia from United States
Comment 21 of 145, added on May 17th, 2007 at 5:58 AM.

A hundred individuals could read "What Lips ... " , and there'd be a
hundred perspectives , and probably ,at least , half as many
interpretations . Surely , many would appreciate the insightfullness ,
depth , and "suggested" abject finality that is , at once , an expression
of both unearthly joy and all too earthly pain . Personally , from a
metaphysical view , I find the expression to be very much an introspective
, "open-ended" , loving of current Self , fully as much as the perceivable
(and acknowledged) "timely loss of others" ... a reflection , in addition
to a grasping recognition , which has resulted in a "letting go" .
Not to wax esoteric in the extreme , but , for any student of the
physical sciences , there is the suggestion of a "mind / brain" interface
(contemporary ref range from W.Penfield to S. Grof) . Though by no means an
expert on the poet , I do dearly enjoy her poetic openness as offerings ;
these a product of her unfettered creative and expansive mind .
As far as I'm able to ascertain , she was prone to a certain moodiness ,
in addition to use of at least one chemical substance which can further
alter both perception and mood . These may have proved somewhat "dulling"
in later years , but , I believe , not at the time of this writing .
Despite what some may consider with regard to the aforementioned , I ,
nevertheless , find this sonnet to be both brilliant in presentation , and
ever so touching in emotionality .
So many times at autopsy , I've held the roughly three and one half
pounds of tissue that comprise the human brain in my hands , and wondered
as to it's collective sensory input , and complex data processing as
demanded during life ; and yet somehow come to know same as an empty
vessel of sorts . As marvelously complex an organ as the human brain
happens to be , somehow I've managed to make a distinction between the
physically concrete , and the mentally ethereal . As fact , we all are
susceptible to tangible influences upon the brain such as physical or
chemical insult . As an opinion , there is a separate and distinct
conscious / spiritual aspect which interfaces with the brain . To what
extent these factors influenced the poet and this sonnet are open to
individual conjecture . Though some would disagree , my feeling is that
such influences , at this time , are nil .
At this point , my obvious opinion is that the poet was beautifully gifted
in the spiritual realm of creativity and sensitivity , and that "What Lips
My Lips Have Kissed ... " is not to be viewed as any hopeless and
despairing expression of a "life wasted" , "lost" , and tearfully
unrecallable , but rather a recognition , an acceptance , a "loosening of
spirit" , and a "letting go" . ESVM's "emerging thought" and sentiment were
captured wonderfully , and expressed so succinctly , at the time of this
composition . Perhaps a few days prior , or a day or two later , and "What
Lips ... " may have never been . That would have been such a loss indeed .
Thankfully , walt

walt m wally martin from United States
Comment 20 of 145, added on April 18th, 2007 at 1:57 AM.

I hadn't known until I found this site that the date of this poem coincided
with the date of Millay's marriage, and the interpretation that this is her
"goodbye" to her past life makes a certain amount of sense, though her
marriage was an open one and she and her husband both had multiple affairs
over the course of it. The interpretation of this poem that I was first
exposed to, that I think also makes sense is that she is commenting on WWI.
The poem came five years after the end of the war, but it is not uncommon
to comment on events after they happen, and the way she speaks of the loss
of her lovers ("the rain is full of ghosts", ln. 4, and "vanished" ln. 10)
suggests that they may have not left of their own accord but were, instead,
taken from her, perhaps by the draft or by death in the trenches. Just
throwing that out there for consideration.

Teri from United States
Comment 19 of 145, added on January 26th, 2007 at 3:26 PM.

thanks to my grandmother and gowing up on a small island in northern maine
and not a lot to do - my love for longfellow is something i have always
carried with me- the childrens hour & the wreck of the hesperus are two of
my favorites (even though the latter still brings me to tears )- i was
buying stamps at the post office the other day and saw the new longfellow
stamp that is coming out in march and started reciting the children's hour
and i asked the po clerk if she had daughters and had read this to them she
did not know who longfellow was or the poem i mentioned to her - it is too
bad that in todays world we are so busy that people do not have time to
read these wonderful poems to their children - i am happy that i was able
to pass some of these wonderful poems and stories i learned from my
grandmother to my children.

nbm from United States
Comment 18 of 145, added on January 26th, 2007 at 11:31 AM.

im just looking at Edna's poems for a stupid english report on poetry my
teacher is really fucking mean. but this is a good poem. pce.

Sarah from United States
Comment 17 of 145, added on January 14th, 2007 at 12:59 PM.

I have felt this poem, despite its appeal, was inauthentic. Millay may have
been ahead of her time sexually, but what of it? That is nothing to poetry,
and her sexual antics of any stripe add nothing to the depth of human
experience. What do I care what she did in bed? She was shallow, nasty and
vicious which a glance through "Savage Beauty" will tell you. And her
attitudes toward sex, with their cheapening of other's feelings, most
likely made her that. Renascence is good, and her work can be good, but
come on... alot of this woman's poetry is posing, and this one is no
exception. She thinks she is a free spirit, a libertine, and a poetess. As
Nietszche points out it is precisely these "free" spirits who are the most

Dan Drumm from United States
Comment 16 of 145, 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

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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: 37097 times
Poem of the Day: Sep 7 2012

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