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This wonderful sonnet by well-known, nominated poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was first published in the anthology The Harp Weaver and Other Poems. This anthology was first released in 1923. Through restrictions and constraints, the poet has masterfully portrayed the topic of her passionate sexuality. This is where the major appeal of this sonnet rests.
About the poet
American lyric poet and dramatist Edna St. Vincent Millay received the 1943 Frost Medal in addition to the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. She was well-liked during her lifetime, but modernist criticism caused her reputation in the 1930s to suffer. However, her writings rekindled appeal in the 1960s and 1970s thanks to feminist literary critique.
I, being born a woman and distressed By all the needs and notions of my kind, Am urged by your propinquity to find Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
The speaker of this sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay begins by repeating the poem’s title, which serves as the catalyst for all the concepts, feelings, and issues she discusses throughout the poem. The speaker talks about how her attraction for a potential partner is fueled by both her biology and the biology of her sex.
She also talks about the “zest” that all women experience when they are with a lover, a feeling that is constrained by “notions” of her kind or the biology of her sex. She carries on with this idea in the subsequent paragraphs.
To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: So subtly is the fume of life designed, To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, And leave me once again undone, possessed.
Women are conditioned to desire what will overwhelm them, and their feelings and ideas have been developed to be appropriated and used by males. Their position and life should be made clear to them both before and after intercourse, and their thoughts should be plunged into “clouds” from which they are unable to think independently.
The speaker, however, believes that these notions are only partially accurate and that women are not inherently submissive and are so readily influenced by males. They can choose.
Think not for this, however, the poor treason Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, I shall remember you with love, or season My scorn with pity,—let me make it plain: I find this frenzy insufficient reason For conversation when we meet again.
The previous part and the final six lines are the options the speaker in Millay’s poem has chosen for herself. Although she feels the want to touch this possible lover physically, she also has the choice to refuse.
She won’t be forced to be with him by her bodily desires, and she doesn’t have a true, full affection for him. She reiterates her main argument in the final three lines: she should not stay because of the “frenzy” she has when she is with him. They don’t have to talk to each other ever again.