Edna St Vincent Millay por Eréndira Díaz. Desactivaré los comentarios el viernes 26 de abril a las 10 am.
As Eréndira puts forward in her presentation, the sonnet form enables Edna St. Vincent Millay to follow and overturn tradition simultaneously. Likewise, by assuming classical forms and themes, she is able to equal women’s position or status with men’s. However, it is important to mention that although she inserts herself into a classical tradition, this does not mean that she lacks a style of her own, but that she adds her personal touch to it.
As Eréndira well notices, the poem “I Know I Am But Summer To Your Heart”, to a certain extent, works as a response to Shakespeare’s sonnet 18. Thus, it enters into a direct dialogue with tradition, to later, by thematic means, detach from it. In Shakespeare, summer is a symbol of static and eternal renewal, while in St. Vincent Millay’s poem it denotes a cycle that might have an end: that echoes the one of having a male speaker or writer in a love sonnet. This is more evident in the second poem that Eréndira presents here: “Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied.”
As the same Eréndira points out in her presentation, in this poem we can also see a detachment from tradition by the use of trochees rather than having a regular iambic rhythm. However, mirroring the speaker’s emotions, at the end we get a sense of entrapment. In other words, just as the poetic voice acknowledges that despite the fact that she intends to avoid places that reminds her of her male beloved, we can see that, in form and theme, the male figure does not fade completely, that tradition is still present throughout all the lines of St. Vincent Millay’s poem:
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, “There is no memory of him here!”
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.
It is interesting when a poet uses a very strict structure, such as the structure of the sonnet, during a time when such strictness on poetry was rejected. In Edna St. Vincent Millay’s sonnets, it is not the structure but the subject matter what is challenged, as Eréndira pointed out. “I Know I Am But Summer to Your Heart” is a clear example. As both Juan Manuel and Eréndira have mentioned, it follows the structure and the imagery of the sonnets written by Shakespeare, the canonic writer of a male occidental tradition per excellence. What is outstanding on Millay’s poem is the fact that it is a female poetic voice, rather than a male. By inserting herself in this male tradition, she is overturning it from the inside, something similar to what Phillis Wheatley did in her own poetry.
It is important to notice, however, that the challenge is not at all violent, at least in this poem. Its intensity is not as the one that characterized other poets, such as Hilda Doolittle. The femininity of the poetic voice is only suggested by some images that are used: “And I have loved you all too long and well/ To carry still the high sweet breast of Spring.” [Italics are mine]; by the use of trochees in its rhythm, as Eréndira explained in her presentation; and maybe because the sonnet itself works as an answer to Shakespeare’s sonnet 18. But in order to notice these hints, the reader must analyze the poem carefully. That they are not self-evident makes the poem a shy transgression. Still, the fact that the voice of the woman is still there in the Shakespearean sonnet makes the reader realize that a subtle female voice is capable of overturn a whole tradition.
As Eréndira points out the use of negatives or antitheton gives to “I Know I am but Summer to your Heart” a particular texture. In the first eight lines of St Vincent’s Millay’s sonnet it seems that the poetic voice is building an argument to herself and to her lover about the conditions for their love to happen. This argument operates in pairs that “exclude one another” (Silva Rethorica). For instance, in the first line the poetic voice assert s “I know I am but summer to your heart,” then in the following line this powerful assertion that somehow also contains a negative in the conjunction but, which is enclosing the temporal dimension of their love, is negated again “And not the full four seasons of the year.” Another example of this double negative can be observed in the second sentence of the sonnet, lines five and six: “No gracious weight of golden fruits to sell/ Have I, nor any wise and wintry thing.” This movement of double negation can be observed in the next six lines that constitute the argument. In the ninth line the adverb “wherefore” marks the closing of the argumentation which has a bittersweet tone. Although a cyclical movement is evident in the line: “When I come back to you…” the lack of synchronicity indicated in the last line, “Even your summer is another clime” gives the aforementioned bittersweet tone.
As Erendira has mentioned the poetry of Edna St Vincent Millay is based on tradition though it is modified. The first poem “I Know I am But Summer To Your Heart” makes allusion to Shakespeare’s eighteenth sonnet and as Erendira mentioned it changes what summer represents. While in “Time Does Not Bring Relief: You All Have Lied” she is responding to the popular concept that “time heals all wounds”. The poetic voice is addressing those who use that popular saying, and calling them liars. The poetic voice is trapped by her memories “Here it seems that a small plot of unforgetfulness has become this imprisoning site of apparent liberty,” Erendira mentions that this imprisonment is much like Frost’s pause in “Stopping By Woods on a Snowy Evening” but I do not think it is the same, since here the memories are not a consequence of the place instead they occur despite where the poetic voice may go “I say, ‘There is no memory of him here!’And so stand stricken, so remembering him”. That is what torments the poetic voice, the fact that nor time nor place is able to mitigate her suffering.