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Edna St. Vincent Millay: Summer Sang In Me a Little While, That In Me Sings No More

9 Sep

One of my favourite poems these days is “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why” by the American poetess Edna St. Vincent Millay, originally published in November 1920. In this poem Millay looks back at all the “lips her lips have kissed” and she tries to remember where and why those kisses have occured. She compares the beating of the rain against the window to the ghosts of her memories, or ghosts of her dead (failed) love relationships, haunting her. In her heart “there stirs a quiet pain” when she realises that she cannot remember the names or the faces of the “lads” who will not shout out for her at night. The loves, just like summer, were vibrant but transitory and fragile, and unlike summer will not return next year. I feel like this is a moment of sobering up. After being drunk on life and drunk on love, she is alone and in a wistful, reflective mood, the rain outside her only companion. Now, summer has passed, love has passed, and she compares herself to a lonely tree in winter which used to be full of birds chirping and is now solitary, with no leaves or birdnests, utterly forgotten… Where does love go when it goes away? Were the kisses, now nought but pale memories, worth it in the end?

Dante Gabriel Rossetti, Portrait of Elizabeth Siddal, 1854, watercolour

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, and Where, and Why

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.

Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone,
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.