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What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

In Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "What Lips My Lips Have Kissed," the poet forlornly recalls past loves in her life. She does not recall particular events of the relationships such as how she met the different individuals, their personalities, or how the relationships came to an end. The reader assumes all the relationships came to an end because their is a tone of loneliness in the poem. Moreover, the poet does not refer to a relationship she is presently having with anyone. Despite being lonely and somewhat sad, the poet is not bitter or regretful. Rather, for the most part, the poet remembers the fullness and happiness these bygone relationships gave her. Essentially, the poem is about the following:

  1. The mood which comes over the poet in happening to recall the past relationships while in bed during a rainy night.
  2. The poet recalls particular kisses, but this physical note sets off the mood.
  3. After mentioning kisses with the opening phrase "what lips my lips have kissed," the poet explores the feeling of remembering the past romances which comes over her.

In the first few lines, Millay sets the scene of the poem. The way she sets the scene also sets the tone for the poem. The poet does not actually say she is in bed before falling asleep, but she gives hints so that the reader can realize this is the scene. In the second and third lines, she refers to "what arms have lain/under my head till morning..." From this following the mention of the kissing, the reader assumes the poet is recalling her time in bed with loves of her past, with their arms laying under her head as they slept. Although the poet is prompted to remember that there were kisses on her lips and were arms under her head, she mentions that while having this remembrances, she cannot remember what lips have kissed hers, or where the kisses took place or why. This mention that she does not remember who kissed her or where or why moves the poem into the realm of pure memory, almost beyond specific feeling. It is because the poet cannot remember such specifics as whom she was kissed by or where she was kissed or the reason that she is not bitter or regretful or sorrowful. In the poem, she is remembering a general experience and feelings which went with it, not specifics of particular romances. In forgetting even why another person would have kissed her, the poem foretells that it is going to explore a mood. The poet is not moved to find answers to why a particular romance may have come about at the time.

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