The Fawn by Edna St. Vincent Millay

‘The Fawn’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a five stanza lyric poem that is divided into uneven sets of lines.  Millay did not give this piece one specific pattern of rhyme. Instead, there are a variety of patterns, as well as sections that are completely unrhymed. For example, stanzas two and three rhyme as follows: ABBB CDC. In contrast, the first stanza has only a couple of moments of rhyme. There is a half or slant rhyme between “forget” and “cleft” and a full rhyme between “retrieve” and “believe.” 

In regards to the meter, there is also not one unifying pattern. The lines vary greatly in length, stretching from one syllable up to fourteen. 

The Fawn by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 

Summary of The Fawn

‘The Fawn’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay tells of an encounter between a deer and a speaker who wants nothing more than to be accepted by the forest.

The poem begins with the speaker vaguely describing an encounter she had with a deer. The importance of the memory is clear from the beginning. It is something she doesn’t expect to ever happen again and this gives the tone a distinct sadness.

In the next lines, she describes what it was like to come upon the deer. She was surprised to see him there, by himself in the moss. His mother was not around and she wondered why this is the case. In the last two stanzas, the speaker conveys her desire to be accepted by the deer and allowed to exist alongside him. She doesn’t want to be loved, she just wants to be a part of the ecosystem.

The poem concludes with a long question. The deer suddenly becomes alarmed and runs from the speaker. She is bothered by this turn of events because she can’t figure out what she did wrong.

 

Poetic Techniques in The Fawn

One of the most important techniques used by Millay in ‘The Fawn’ is enjambment. This occurs when a line is stopped, and another is started at an unnatural stopping point in one’s speech. The technique forces a reader’s eyes from one line to another more quickly. It also makes the speaker’s tone more dramatic as small cliff hangers are created throughout the text. 

Millay also makes use of repetition. This can be seen through the use and reuse of words at the beginning of lines, known as anaphora, and the repetition of words at the end of lines. A reader can take note of one particularly impactful use of repetition in the last stanza with the two phrases beginning with “Might.”

 

Analysis of The Fawn 

Stanza One 

There it was I saw what I shall never forget
And never retrieve.
Monstrous and beautiful to human eyes, hard to
believe,
He lay, yet there he lay,
Asleep on the moss, his head on his polished cleft
small ebony hoves,
The child of the doe, the dappled child of the deer.

In the first stanza of this piece, the speaker begins by describing, vaguely, a moment she experienced. Before a reader is even informed about the details of the encounter, one knows that it made quite an impact on her.  It was something, she states that she,

[…] shall never forget 

And never retrieve. 

The use of enjambment between these two lines gives the phrase “And never retrieve” even greater importance. There is an inherent sadness to the encounter that one should try to keep in mind as the details are provided in the next lines. It was a wonderful thing, whatever it was, but it will never happen again. Even the emotions associated with the experience will not come back easily, or at all. 

She goes on to refer to something that was both “Monstrous and beautiful” to her eyes. It was “hard” for her to believe what it was she was seeing. There was a “He” who was laying in the moss. This creature has his, 

[…] head on his polished cleft

Small ebony hoves, 

With these details and the information provided in the title, it is clear that the animal is a fawn. Its providence is also clear. It comes from the female deer, the “doe.” The baby is “dappled” or spotted and is of a world that the speaker does not feel she is a part of. 

 

Stanza Two

Surely his mother had never said, “Lie here
Till I return,” so spotty and plain to see
On the green moss lay he.
His eyes had opened; he considered me.

The second stanza is much shorter with only four lines. In these lines, the speaker considers how the deer came to be in the “green moss.” She questions the mother of the deer and thinks it impossible that the doe told her child to. 

 “Lie here

Till I return,” so spotty and plain to see 

It is clear that the speaker admires and wants to draw closer to the baby. It doesn’t seem possible that the deer was abandoned, even temporarily by its mother, although this is likely the case. The line “plain to see” shows the speaker’s concern for the baby. Someone or something might come along which does not feel so kindly towards the small animal. 

In the next lines, the little deer opens its eyes and “consider[s]” the speaker. He is unsure what to make of her. 

 

Stanza Three

 would have given more than I care to say
To thrifty ears, might I have had him for my friend
One moment only of that forest day:

The third stanza only has three lines. In this section of ‘The Fawn’ the speaker admits how much she has immediately come to care for the baby. She would have “given more” than she’d like to share to have “him for [her] friend.” In an effort to make her point more relevant, she adds that someone with “thrifty ears” would be outraged or at least surprised by how much she would “have given” to stay with the deer. 

The speaker is not asking to stay with the baby forever. Instead, she recalls wishing to be there for just “one moment…that forest day.” 

 

Stanza Four 

Might I have had the acceptance, not the love
Of those clear eyes;
Might I have been for him in the bough above
Or the root beneath his forest bed,
A part of the forest, seen without surprise.

She elaborates on this idea of a brief but fulfilling encounter with the deer. She wants from him,

[…] acceptance, not the love 

Of those clear eyes; 

It is more important for her to feel for a moment as though she is a part of his world. She would like to have been part of the “bough” of branches above his head or the “root beneath his forest bed.” In these forms, she would easily be “accepted” by the deer as “part of the forest.” There would have been no reason for the deer to be surprised about her presence there. Instead, they could coexist. 

 

Stanza Five 

Was it alarm, or was it the wind of my fear lest he
depart
That jerked him to his jointy knees,
And sent him crashing off, leaping and stumbling
On his new legs, between the stems of the white
trees?

In the final stanza, the inevitable happens. The speaker does something and the deer becomes alarmed. Perhaps, she thinks, it was “the wind of my fear / lest he depart” that sent him running. He ran off with his “jointy knees” that are not quite coordinated enough to allow him to run without a problem through the undergrowth. 

His departure was loud and uncoordinated. His legs were “new” and resembled the “white trees” around the speaker. The stanza ends without an answer to the speaker’s question. She’s still not sure what it is that sent him running. She doesn’t think she did anything, but something about her presence there scared him. If she could become a part of the forest, like the boughs and the roots, this would not be something she’d have to worry about. 

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