My vision of the speaker in “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed…” (by Edna Millay, in the Seagull Reader) is a woman who has spent her life looking for love and attention, but has never found it. After years of looking, her beauty has faded and her quest has been in vain. She is left forever alone, with no one but the rain to keep her company.
The speaker is overcome with sadness as she thinks of her past romances, and the lack of attention she sees from men now as she writes:
“What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning” (pg 223).
One thing I actually enjoyed about this poem was that it was not hard to understand. The speaker has forgotten her past lovers, or even why they were together. I got the sense that she may be an older woman since the fact that she can’t remember them makes it seem like a long time ago. As she listens to the rain “tap and sigh, upon the glass and listen for reply” she feels all alone; and perhaps unloved. Listening to the rain is not necessarily something you do when you are among people, but rather something done when all is quiet. Perhaps the rain reminds her of the young men that used to metaphorically knock at her door, as it taps at the windows, as the lack of men doing so now. In turn she writes:
“And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry”.(pg 223)
I think, like the rest of this piece, this excerpt is pretty self-explanatory and really gets to the core of her loneliness. Not only are there no more “lads” coming to call for her, but she describes them as unremembered; which gives me the feeling like even when there were men wanting her it never really meant anything. Maybe, though she has had many men in bed with her but never really had true love. This is why the men seem to blur together and she doesn’t even remember what they look like. She uses the metaphor of a lonely tree to describe herself giving the reader an image of a single tree, perhaps in a meadow that all the birds have flown from. Although the tree doesn’t know what exact birds have come and gone, It does notice that its “its boughs are more silent than before” (pg 223). Like the tree she is all alone, and although none of the “birds” that used to come around her were particularly special, she misses at least having someone around. If a tree is not giving a home to animals, or where there are people to come and pick its fruit, then it is useless. The speaker seems to feel this way too. There is a great sense of hopelessness in her like she is of no use, and no one wants her anymore. The last lines of the poem are probably some of the saddest I’ve ever read…
“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”(pg 223).
Here again she reiterates the fact that she doesn’t even recall the circumstances of the loves she has had; which could also indicate that there have been many. Here we are reconnected to the lone tree metaphor as she hints back to it with the summer and singing reference. The brief time the men came to call on her was like summer for the tree, with birds singing in its branches. Yet, now that the winter has come the birds fly south and the tree is left alone. The idea of the seasons representing the stages of life reminds me of last weeks “Spring and Fall…” where summer is like when you are young and vibrant, and winter is like the end of your life.
Overall, the them of this poem seemed to be utter hopelessness and loneliness. She left no hope for the speakers future. It reminded me of a lot of women I know that search out that attention from men constantly with someone, but never really together.