The Song of Summer
This poem may suggest it is about missing people or regretting experiences, but I think if look deeper and really analyze it, you can see its main premise is feeling empty when the days of youth and folly have been lost, which is actually quite a common but confusing feeling – the emptiness –not always in the exact way the narrator feels it, but in any way at all. What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why by Edna St. Vincent Millay is full of strong emotions which suggest all sorts of themes, though the figurative language used gives some clues as to the meaning, a meaning which I can relate to just as the narrator can. The emotional language in this poem expresses the themes. When the narrator mentions the arms that “lain under my head” we get a sense of tender love, but in turn she tells us it was only “till morning” and we understand that, however gently she may be putting it, she is just talking of one night stands. We can almost feel the quiet pain that stirs in her heart, and she shows us what she meant – that she wasn’t sure what was missing, but she could just feel in her heart that there was something missing.
Although we sympathize with this writer, we can also see that she must’ve been very much a femme fatale sort of character. These lads (plural, unnamed and faceless) who “turn to me at midnight with a cry” sound obsessed and exhausted with this alluring, deadly woman who’ll only have them till morning. But those days are gone, and our narrator is older, plainer and feeling a little empty without all these lips that she can’t remember by name or face, just by feeling. Figurative language plays a big part in this poem and is crafted beautifully so it flows well. Our writer gives us some insight into the themes using figurative language. The first line is a pile of alliteration, with the double “lips” and the “wh” x3, which sounds delicious as it drips off the lips of the reader.
Repetition is used in the last lines with the “sang in me” and “in me sings”; this is also personification as summer cannot literally sing. Strong imagery is produced when the writer using uses analogies and nature to describe the narrator’s feelings. She talks of ghosts tapping against the glass, which was literally the rain, and metaphorically it was her past lovers, but their ghosts only, as they are long gone to her. These ghosts are waiting for a reply, but she is sad and feeling forgotten and she knows that she can’t go back into the past with them. This poem also uses the contrast between winter and summer.
When she says “in winter” we can tell by the descriptions that she is using winter synonymous with death, which is again confirmed when we hear how summer sang in her, which is an analogy to life, as in: those were the days when she was full of life. Another metaphor-type analogy is this lonely tree in the second half; it does not know “what birds have vanished one by one” but it can tell that it is missing something. This lonely tree is quite obviously our narrator, and the birds are all her past lovers, whom she did not know when they were leaving one by one, but can feel now they are gone, and though she does not remember then individually she knows it is “more silent than before”. Again, this reinforces that she is not remembering exact men whom she has loved and kissed, but she is feeling a little emptier now she is alone. I can relate to the narrator’s feeling in What lips my lips have kissed. I feel that we all, if I am any judge, sometimes have this feeling deep down like a little empty hole has formed in our heart.
We can’t remember specifically what was there before, but we know we are definitely missing something, and it is quite a sad feeling. Sad feelings like this don’t often last long – a phone call from a friend, a nice meal, a smile on the street, can perk us right up again – but we still do feel them and the stronger they are, the longer they last. It is a strong character who can push past these feelings through force of will, but it is a stronger character that can endure them without regrets and try to reflect positively on the past instead. Sometimes, when it’s a particularly cold day, or when everybody’s out for a while, or when I get an email or letter from an old friend, I get this little stirring quiet pain. I do enjoy what I do nowadays, but just recently it’s been a bit too much work and a bit too little play, and I just sit down and think and think and wonder what happened.
I can remember a time when summer sang in me all day long, and I either didn’t have work or it was so fun I didn’t regard it as work. I remember tearing around town with faceless friends and laughing at school for some reason or another and sitting in the garden under my many ‘forts’ and toddling around museums or art galleries or wherever looking at things. I don’t really miss the specific events or people – they were fun and I think of those fondly – but I do miss just the general way I felt. It was just different, and it’s changed and I don’t remember when it did and I sort of wish it hadn’t. It’s hard but the way I deal with this is to not dwell on the past, but to think of the future – the near future – and how, when my parents are settled business-wise, when school is over for the year, when my friends and I can finally co-ordinate a few free weekends, when the sun is shining a little brighter, maybe it won’t matter quite so much what I’m missing as opposed to what I’m gaining, and maybe that little hole in my heart will fill back up again, and maybe summer can sing in me once more before the fall. What lips my lips have kissed is about wishing for times gone, and Millay reminded me of times that have gone from me, and how I don’t miss the particular events or the particular people, just the feeling in general of being in those times.
The emotions in this poem are mixed, along with the themes, but the figurative language gives us some insight and it is easier to understand the way the writer feels if, like me, you can sometimes feel this way. But, whenever you do feel this way, just remember that winter can only last so long, and summer will be here before you know it.