"What Lips My Lips Have Kissed"

Explore the fleeting nature of love in Edna St. Vincent Millay's poignant sonnet. Learn how memory fades but emotions linger. Read more.

"What Lips My Lips Have Kissed"
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In 1923, Edna St. Vincent Millay became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry. We'll read the sonnet, "What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why." Her message is brutal: the vibrancy of love and youth fade into a lingering silence. The ghosts of unremembered lovers tap and sigh upon a glass.
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, I have forgotten, and what arms have lain Under my head till morning; but the rain Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh Upon the glass and listen for reply,
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain For unremembered lads that not again Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: I cannot say what loves have come and gone, I only know that summer sang in me A little while, that in me sings no more
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The last stanza of this Petrarchan (Italian) sonnet is her self-portrait. She's a lonely winter tree—once a host to vibrant life, now stark and quiet. She's not grieving for any particular lover—she can't even remember who they were. She's grieving for the summer song that sang in her, that in her sings no more.

Story From

Edna St Vincent Millay Collection