Sonnet 29 – Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day by Edna St. Vincent Millay

Here is an analysis of American playwright and poet Edna St. Vincent Millay’s ‘Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day.’ Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poet and playwright; she received the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923, the third woman to win the award. Millay’s poetry includes many sonnets, including ‘Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day.’ Later in her career, her poetry turned more political, as she focused more on the Allies’ efforts during World War II. These poems drew a tremendous amount of criticism. It is her sonnets, however, for which Millay is best known. Sadly, the world lost her at a fairly young age: she died at fifty-eight from a heart attack. Today, she is considered to be one of the United States’ most beloved and popular poets.

Sonnet 29: Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Summary

The speaker of ‘Sonnet 29’ is asking the person with whom she is in love to stop pitying her.

While the tone throughout the poem is quite melancholy, the speaker also seems to be realistic when it comes to love, comparing the cycles in nature to the cycle of romance. The speaker recognizes and accepts that her lover no longer loves her, and she says that she has always known that this is the way of love. It is fleeting and fickle.

 

Themes

Millay engages with themes of nature and relationships. The poet spends the poem having her speaker compare her relationship, the ups and downs of love, and even her perceptions of herself to the natural world. She is drawing a comparison between the cyclical way that nature moves through periods of flourishing life and barren death to the same way that love comes and goes. She addresses her lover, telling them that they “no longer look with love” on her. She has no misapprehensions about the state of their relationship.

 

Structure and Form

As is quite common in a sonnet, the first line of the poem also doubles as the title of the poem. The work is a typical Shakespearean sonnet, with fourteen lines, a set rhyme scheme (abab/cdcd/efef/gg) in three rhymed quatrains (stanzas that are four lines each), and the last two lines of the poem form a rhyming couplet. In addition, each line contains exactly ten syllables of words.

 

Literary Devices

Millay makes use of several literary devices in ‘Sonnet 29.’ These include but are not limited to anaphora, enjambment, and imagery. The latter is one of the most important literary devices in a piece of poetry. Without successful imagery, readers will likely walk away from the poem unmoved. Some good examples from ‘Sonnet 29’ include “Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea, / Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon” and “Than the wide blossom which the wind assails, / Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore.”

Anaphora is a type of repetition, one that’s focused on the beginning of lines. For example, lines ten and eleven both start with “Than the,” and lines one, three, five, and thirteen that start with “Pity me.” Enjambment occurs at the end of lines—for example, the transition between lines one and two as well as between thirteen and fourteen.

 

Analysis of Sonnet 29: Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day

Lines 1-4

Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;

Throughout ‘Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day,’ the speaker compares love to nature, which begins in the first quatrain. The speaker makes a request to her reader, who may also be her former lover, not to pity her. She writes, “Pity me not because the light of day/At the close of day no longer walks the sky…” Here, she also begins an extended metaphor, comparing love to the ever-changing aspects of nature. In these first two lines, she asks that she is not pitied because the day closes into the night. She is also asking that she not be pitied because the light of love has also been extinguished. Lines three and four continues using the extended metaphor, entreating that she should not be pitied because beauty fades in the fields over time. So, too, does love.

 

Lines 5-8

Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.

By the second quatrain, it is evident that Millay is utilizing repetition with the phrase “Pity me not,” and just as she begins the first quatrain of her poem, so begins the second. She writes, “Pity me not the waning of the moon,/Nor the ebbing tide goes out to sea…”Again, she is asking that she should not be pitied because the moon is not as bright or as big as it had been, just the like the love she and her lover had experienced. In the next two lines, Millay shifts to speak directly to and about her lost love. This is now where it becomes evident that the speaker is talking directly to her former lover since she uses the pronoun “you.” She does not want her lover to pity her because of the desire and love her partner once felt for her as fled, and she explicitly tells her lover not to pity her for no longer loves her.

 

Lines 9-12

This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:

In the third quatrain of ‘Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day,’ Millay’s pessimism comes out in full force. This is a very cynical way of looking at love. Millay claims she has always known that love is a fragile and fleeting thing—it is like a delicate flower being beaten by the wind; it is like the tide on the shore that must return back to the ocean; it is the wreckage that appears after a strong wind: it will eventually be broken.

 

Lines 13-14

Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.

The final two lines form a couplet, and these two lines reflect a distinct change in the poem. Up until this point, the speaker has been pleading not to be pitied; however, now she is requesting that she be pitied for her heart not learning what her mind has known all along: love will not stay. She writes, “Pity me that the heart is slow to learn/What the swift mind beholds at every turn.”

 

Similar Poetry

Readers who enjoyed Sonnet 29′ should also consider reading some of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s other best-known poems. For example:

  • I, Being born a Woman and Distressed’ – depicts the emotional instability of relationships and a woman’s need to walk away from them without losing herself.
  • ‘Ashes of Life‘ – depicts a speaker whose stuck in the mundane routine of her life.
  • ‘What My Lips Have Kiss, and Where and Why’ – is one of her most famous poems. In the text, her speaker states that she can’t remember all her lovers, but she does remember the comfort they brought her.
  • ‘Love is Not All’– describes the ways that people suffer for love, despite the fact that it doesn’t improve one’s life as shelter and food do.

 

Historical Background

Edna St. Vincent Millay, an open bisexual, had many lovers over the course of her life, even after she married Eugen Jan Boissevain, a labor lawyer. The two had an open marriage, and each had several lovers during their twenty-six years together. One of the most prominent lovers Millay took was George Dillon, a young poet she met while he was a student at the University of Chicago. As a result, the lover to whom Millay refers in this poem could be any one of her lovers, including her husband.

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Jamie Jenson
About
Jamie joined the Poem Analysis team back in November, 2010. He has a passion for poetry and enjoys analysing and providing interpretations for poetry from the past and present.
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