The theme of pain and sorrow mostly coming from heartbreak and failure in love has been common in the poem of Edna St. Vincent Millay, and the same can be seen in the poem Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day.
But rarely has the pain been so beautifully portrayed and the feeling of heartbreak so beautifully expressed as it is done in this poem.
Pity Me Not Because the Light of Day is a poem that starts in a defensive tone, but at the end, readers can feel the pain of the speaker. It is a sonnet about heartbreak and realization.
The traditional style of a sonnet is used in a very beautiful way, almost opposite of the way Shakespeare uses the sonnet’s structure.
Millay puts forward this defensive emotion in all the lines but then completely turns the tone and meaning of the poem in the last couplet. Let’s take a look at the poem and then at the simplification of it.
Pity me not because the light of the day by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Pity me not because the light of day At close of day no longer walks the sky; Pity me not for beauties passed away From field and thicket as the year goes by; Pity me not the waning of the moon, Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea, Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon, And you no longer look with love on me. This have I known always: Love is no more Than the wide blossom which the wind assails, Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore, Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales: Pity me that the heart is slow to learn What the swift mind beholds at every turn.
Don’t pity me for things that are bound to happen Like the light of the day goes away at the night Like the fields and thickets lose the greenery as the year goes by. Do not pity me as you do not pity the waning moon Or the sea that recedes when the tide goes away Or like the man whose desires die out soon and you do not look at me with love I have always known this; that the love was gone Just like I know how the wind attacks the flowers How the tide moves on the shifting shore How wreckage is gathered after a strong storm But do pity me for my heart is a slow learner and it does not see what the mind sees at every turn of life.
Meaning and Message
After reading the simplification, it must be very clear that the poet is talking about falling in love and then failing in it. She says that the person who loved her does not love her anymore.
The poem talks about a very complex and painful experience when the person who loves you stops loving you, and you are aware of that. More precisely, your mind is aware of that.
But then comes the heart which does not want to accept it, no matter how much the mind can see, the heart just refuses to believe that the love is not there anymore.
Millay says do not pity me for the thing that has happened to me. It was bound to happen just like the moon wanes or the light goes away at the end of the day.
She says that she was aware of it, she knew it better than anyone else. But then at the end of the sonnet, she asks the readers to pity her for one small thing.
She ends the sonnet after saying that we should pity her (and it is something even she admits is worth pitying) for her heart’s inability to learn.
So the message of the poem is that people should not pity her for being the person who was left when the other person lost feelings for her. That she knew very well, just like the changes of day and night.
But she asks people to pity her for her heart. She knows that her heart is at fault here for not accepting what her mind was seeing clearly, and it is something people should feel sorry for.
Now that we know the meaning, let’s look at the detailed analysis of the poem to realize how beautifully the verses are written and eloquently the message has been conveyed.
Analysis of the Poem
Let’s divide the sonnet into stanzas and look at them individually to get a closer inspection.
Pity me not because the light of day
At close of day no longer walks the sky;
Pity me not for beauties passed away
From field and thicket as the year goes by;
Millay says that people should not pity her as they do not pity the passing of light when the day ends or as the greenery fades away as the year goes by. She says that these are the things we know are going to happen.
Pity me not the waning of the moon,
Nor that the ebbing tide goes out to sea,
Nor that a man’s desire is hushed so soon,
And you no longer look with love on me.
The theme continues as Millay gives more examples of not pitying her. She says that things like the waning of the moon or the ebbing of the tides are something bound to happen. So do we pity them?
But then things change and we get to know what she is talking about. She says just like these obvious things, she knew that a man’s desires also die very soon. The man she loves does not lack the same feeling.
This have I known always: Love is no more
Than the wide blossom which the wind assails,
Than the great tide that treads the shifting shore,
Strewing fresh wreckage gathered in the gales:
Millay then talks about the nature of love, and how she has known about it. She says that love is temporary, something that cannot last.
It is like the wild blossom of flowers that are being attacked by wind or the tide that walks on the shifting shore. We know what is going to happen in the end.
Pity me that the heart is slow to learn
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.
The couplet at the end shows us the sad condition of the poet, and how the defensive nature has shown before was just a facade. The loss of love has actually hurt her.
She feels sad for her heart and its inability to understand what the mind knows, what she just explained in the entire poem. For some reason, the heart is very slow to learn and tends to forget very quickly.