Edna St. Vincent Millay is no stranger to sorrow. Almost all her poems, including Kin to Sorrow, explore the idea of sorrow and its effect on us.
But there is something really intriguing about how sorrow is portrayed in the poem “Kin to Sorrow.” The idea of misfortune is decorated in a such familiar fabric that one cannot help but relate to it.
“Kin to Sorrow” is a poem talking about how pain and misfortune visit someone’s life again and again, and how we get used to its regular visits.
There is a romanticisation of pain, a sort of embracing this emotion no matter how much it hurts us. Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the analysis of it.
Kin to Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Am I kin to Sorrow, That so oft Falls the knocker of my door— Neither loud nor soft, But as long accustomed, Under Sorrow’s hand? Marigolds around the step And rosemary stand, And then comes Sorrow— And what does Sorrow care For the rosemary Or the marigolds there? Am I kin to Sorrow? Are we kin? That so oft upon my door— Oh, come in!
Am I attached to sorrow because it keeps coming to me and so often it comes to me that it feels like it has grown accustomed to me Even though there are things around me that try to make me feel happy But when sorrow comes, everything else fails Am I so related to sorrow that it so often comes to - It came again!
Meaning of the Poem
Millay is asking a question and a very simple one with a very complicated answer; Is she somehow related to sorrow? Is sorrow a part of her family?
The next lines are some of the most beautifully crafted and must be read more than once to truly appreciate their beauty.
The poet says that the “knock” of sorrow on her door is neither soft nor loud, it is as if sorrow has been to her home so often that it knows the perfect way to knock at the door.
Millay says that for some reason, no matter what she does or how much she tries, sorrow always comes into her life. There are things in her life that bring happiness, but when sorrow comes, it is not affected by all those happy things.
In the end, she finishes the poem in a very witty (and somber) way by ending the line in the middle to say that sorrow “knocked at her doors” again.
The poem is about the thoughts that come to someone’s mind when they are frequently subjected to painful experiences.
People start to assume “why am I experiencing this” or “what have I done wrong” to suffer so much. So the poet says that she feels like “sorrow” has become a part of her family.
But there is more to the poem than just its meaning of it. Let’s take a deeper analysis of the poem to notice the subtle things in the poem.
Analysis of the Poem
Let’s break down the poem into fragments and analyze them to understand the poem in more detail.
Am I kin to Sorrow,
That so oft
Falls the knocker of my door—
Neither loud nor soft,
But as long accustomed,
Under Sorrow’s hand?
Rarely metaphors as beautiful as this one are written. Read it once and you might miss it, but look at it again and you will realize the ability of great poets to add beauty to misery.
Millay says that like a relative or a person who visits your house frequently knows how to knock at the door the perfect way; neither loud nor soft, sorrow’s hands have also been accustomed as well.
Marigolds around the step
And rosemary stand,
And then comes Sorrow—
And what does Sorrow care
For the rosemary
Or the marigolds there?
Now we get to the second great metaphor. Millay says that there are flowers around her house, near the door. But to sorrow, they mean nothing. What is it supposed to mean?
The speaker is trying to say that no matter how much she tries to cheer up or does things that would keep sorrow away, it just does not work.
There is a sense of desperation in these lines. Think about it; a person trying so hard to do everything to keep sorrow away just fails no matter what they do.
The flowers represent happiness, positive things, and things that are supposed to make someone feel good. And yet nothing seems to stop the feet of sorrow.
Am I kin to Sorrow?
Are we kin?
That so oft upon my door—
Oh, come in!
In the last lines of the poem, Millay repeats the same sentences but with a twist. She again asks whether sorrow is someone related to her. But just as she is saying the lines, she gets a knock at her door.
The last line shows that even before she can finish telling people about her condition, sorrow knocks again.
But then she just says sorrow to come in as she has gotten so used to it. She doesn’t want to resist it at all.
And that ends the poem in the most poetically painful way, leaving us thinking what kind of sorrow visited her again.