“What Lips my Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a poem focusing on a lonesome woman, trying to recall all of her past lovers. She is stuck reminiscing about the past while watching the rain trickle down her window. The poem takes the reader directly into her perspective, and shows the reader how saddened she has become. The reader is able to infer using metaphors and symbolism to illustrate how detached the woman is. In the story, she is compared to a tree, her lovers are compared to ghosts, and her happiness is referred to as the seasons. The theme of the poem “What Lips my Lips Have Kissed” is loneliness and reminiscing.
The main character in “What Lips my Lips Have Kissed” is an old woman stuck in the past. She is female according to the phrase “what arms have lain under my head till morning” (Millay 1), because in our society, women are indoctrinated to be protected by men. In a relationship, the norm is to have the man’s arm around the woman. The speaker is a female who is longing for love, but has lost her chance to find it. She’s had a treacherous journey, involving countless forgotten men “unremembered lads” (1) that led to nothing more than an awkward morning after. She has once felt love for a man, but their relationship vanished to quickly for her to realize. The speaker describes love as summer singing inside her (1); eventually, she is left deserted, and that is her winter. She compares herself to a desolate tree, left alone, with no birds chirping around her. Despite the birds not being special, she misses having someone around. The bough of the tree is her heart. And the bough is not being used because there are no birds around who want it. When winter strikes, flowers lose their pedals, and trees lose their leaves. They lose what makes them beautiful. As trees lose their beauty at the end of their lives, so do humans. The main character is at the age where she’s considered to old to be beautiful; she’s at the winter of her life.
Many near death experiences lead people to believe that his or life lives flash before his eyes upon the brink of death. When someone is on his or her deathbed, they look at old photo albums, see loved ones, and retell past stories. Being alone, the speaker can only do this with herself. She may not be on her deathbed, but she is nearing the end of her life, and now she is trying to remember of the loved ones she thought she had. She’s grown accustomed to her solidarity and resorts to keeping herself company. “But the rain… upon the glass” (1), rarely do people stare out the window on a rainy night if they have company. Not being able to recall any past lovers, she’s accepted the pain that’s in her heart. When someone gazes out the window on a rainy night, they immediately think about saddening moments in there past. In this poem, the past moments are her forgotten loves.
Loneliness and reminiscing is the theme of the poem “What Lips my Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. The theme is directly stated in the poem. It is fairly obvious to decipher the theme solely because of this line: “a quiet pain for unremembered lads that not again will turn to me at midnight with a cry” (1). The line specifically states that the main character feels saddened because all of her past relationships have turned into nothing, and she will never find love. She also sees as the men she’s been with as forgettable, leaving her alone to cry. “The rain is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh upon the glass and listen for reply” (1) is a metaphor for the men she has been with. She no longer sees the men as individual people, they have all morphed into unremembered ghosts in the rain. Every raindrop is a man she’s been with, rather, a ghost she’s been with.
“What Lips my Lips Have Kissed” by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a poem about an old woman who is coming to grips with her past. The main character can be described as having a life crisis, realizing she has wasted her love life with constant emotionless flings. She has had her time in the sun, during the summer of her life, but now she is shivering from the cold winter, that symbolizes the end of her life. The author wants the reader to finish reading with the image of an elderly woman, sobbing while looking out into the rain.
Blume, Rachel. “What Lips My Lips My Lips Have Kissed.” Rachelblumeblong.wordpress.com. n.p. 20 Feb. 2013. Web. 8 Feb. 2016
Millay, Edna St. Vincent. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed. London: Poems on the Underground, 1989. Print.