‘Time does not bring relief; you all have lied’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a fourteen-line sonnet contained within one block of text. The poem is structured in the common form of a Petrarchan sonnet. This means that it can be separated into two sets of four lines or quatrains, which combine together to form an octave. There is also a final set of six lines, also known as a sestet.
The poem also follows a rhyme scheme consistent with the basic form of a Petrarchan sonnet: ABBA ABBA CDEEDC. In regards to meter, the poem sticks to iambic pentameter. This means that each line contains five sets of two beats, the first of these are unstressed and the second stressed.
Millay also makes use of another convention of sonnet writing, the volta. This is a turn in the poem’s text that occurs between the octave and the sestet. It is often marked by a change in speaker, setting, or narrative perspective. There are also examples in which the second half provides an answer to the first, or even raises more differently phrased questions.
In this piece, Millay uses the second half of the poem to outline why her speaker’s emotions have made it hard for her to function in the world. The heartbroken speaker does her best to find a place where she can get some relief. This proves to be impossible though as the memories of her ex-lover are everywhere. They are more attached to her own being than they are to a physical location.
Summary of Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
The poem begins with this speaker chastising her listeners for lying to her. They told her that any pain she feels, on account of a lost lover, would fade away in time. She is angry because this has not come close to happening. One can assume that a great deal of time has passed, and the speaker’s emotions are just as strong as they were when the hurt was fresh.
She describes how her longing for her lover is omnipresent. It comes to her in the rain and with tidal changes. In the second stanza, she tells of all the changes she sees going on in the world. The speaker is aware that time is passing around her, but it doesn’t touch her inner world. The snow might be melting on the mountains and the leaves being turned into smoke on the road, but she is the same as always.
The final lines describe how these emotions have impacted her. Now, no matter where she goes, even if its somewhere he never was, she is “stricken” with thoughts of him. He haunts her heart and mind, in every setting and situation.
Analysis of Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
In the first four lines, the speaker begins by making use of the line which would later come to be used as the title. Here, she tells her listeners, a group who have tried to console her, that “Time does not bring relief” to her pain. Something has happened to her in the past, something associated with one particular person that has scarred her deeply.
She is clearly angry at these unknown listeners. The speaker exclaims in the second line that what they told her was a lie. She has not recovered with the passage of time. Her feelings of sorrow are as strong as they were before. She states that she misses “him” and wants “him” at times specifically associated with water. These descriptions hint at a never-ending longing for this person. When the tides go out and come back in, she wants him.
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year’s leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year’s bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
In the next set of four lines, she describes how the world is changing around her. She takes note of the passage of time, seen in the melting of the snow on the mountains and the leaves becoming “smoke in every lane.” This doesn’t mean that anything has changed for her.
The feelings she had, which she describes as “bitter loving” are still there. They do not fade in and out like the seasons. Instead, they are piled, or “Heaped” upon her at all times. There is no way for her to shake them off.
The speaker says her thoughts are “abid[ing]” within her body. They follow her everywhere she goes.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go,—so with his memory they brim.
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.
The final sestet begins with a marked change in the format of the speaker’s words. This is known as a volta, or turn. Now, rather than describing how her feelings are a constant in her life, the speaker goes over all the places she fears returning to. The fear she experiences is a result of the previous octave worth of lines.
It is due to his “memory” that she is unable to go to “a hundred places.” These particular locations are so full of his presence that she worries about becoming overwhelmed. In order to emphasize the intensity of her emotional state, the speaker goes on to describe another situation.
She often seeks out relief in “some quiet place.” Her choice is always somewhere he has never been in order to attempt to escape from her constant depressive state. These areas never knew his “face” or the fall of his “foot.” But, when she gets there, she is “stricken” with his memory. This supports the idea that it is the speaker herself who is haunted by his presence, not the world.