If you have read the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay, you must know that almost all her poems deal with the theme of sorrow. So the poem named “Sorrow” by the poet leaves little for the mind to assume.
Sorrow is a poem that shows the variety it comes in. As is the case with every other poem by Millay, there is a deeper meaning in the poems that conclude within a few lines.
In this poem, the poet describes her battle with sorrow and what it has made her. The impact it has had on her and how her life has changed.
Let’s look at the poem first and then we will add a simplified version of the poem for people who want to understand it as quickly and easily as possible.
But that’s not all, if readers want, they can also read a detailed and in-depth meaning and analysis of the poem. Let’s start.
Sorrow by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Sorrow like a ceaseless rain Beats upon my heart. People twist and scream in pain, — Dawn will find them still again; This has neither wax nor wane, Neither stop nor start. People dress and go to town; I sit in my chair. All my thoughts are slow and brown: Standing up or sitting down Little matters, or what gown Or what shoes I wear.
Sorrow is a feeling that never stops It brings pain to the heart People suffer from it, it changes them but they pretend to be normal when the dawn comes No matter what, pain is constant; it does not lessen or increase It does not start or stop at any point People live their lives normally I just sit in a chair and do nothing much All my thoughts are slow, and stale Thoughts like standing up or sitting down small matters, the dress I want to wear Or perhaps the shoes.
Meaning of the Poem
“Sorrow” is about the emotion of sorrow and how it affects people and the poet. She first describes the nature of sorrow and then how it affects people.
The core meaning of the poem is that sorrow is a part of life, and you can never get rid of it, no matter how much one tries. There is no beginning or end to sorrow. No start or stop.
Everyone feels sorrow, but when the time comes, they put on a pretense and act normally with a smile on their face. It does not mean that they are not familiar with the strings of sorrow.
But then Edna says that while people suffer from sorrow yet they go about their day and live a normal life, her life and mind have changed a lot.
Edna sits on a chair and her thoughts have become dull, slow, and senile in a very bizarre way. She uses the word “brown” as a metaphor, like the leaves of a tree turn brown before falling off.
Edna’s mind just thinks of basic and simple thoughts such as standing up or sitting down, and what dress or shoes she should wear.
Edna has been so long in this “rain” of sorrow that her heart has become numb. She cannot put on a fake smile on her face and do what normal people do.
She has a sense of detachment from the world, she does not want to think too much, or even do too much. It is almost a depressive isolation.
The Nature of Sorrow
The second stanza of the poem is not much about the people or the philosophy behind suffering. It turns into something personal, an autobiography of personal pain.
But the first stanza is filled with complex messages about something so universal and familiar that you write a philosophical paragraph on it.
Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
Neither stop nor start.
Millay describes the nature of sorrow, and it is very somber. You can feel that the nature of sorrow is coming from someone who has had their fair share of it.
Instead of saying that sorrow is an emotion that comes and goes, she says that there is no start or end of sorrow, just like there is no decreasing or increase of it. It remains constant and incessant.
While it can make people “twist” in pain, when dawn comes, when people need to meet other people, they are still. They do not want to show that the pain is still there. This is the reason why sorrow never ends. We just hide it well.
We are never truly free from sorrow, as it is a part of life. We might hide them or even forget about them, but sorrow is always present. No one is ever free from sorrow.
But the poem ends with a question, or more accurately, an observation that is hunted and not confirmed.
What if you do not hide the sorrow and the suffering and do not pretend that everything is okay? Perhaps then someone will end up like the speaker.
The speaker stood in this rain and drowned in it. Now that she has lost all of her, all she can do is just think stale and slow thoughts. Nothing else.