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Short analysis of Edna St Vincent Millay's sonnet: “We talk of taxes, and i call you friend“.

Updated on June 28, 2015

Edna Millay uses a typical convention of love story – sonnet. This is the Italian sonnet, i.e. it is divided into an octave and a sestet. It is a traditional verse form. She uses it to show us something common, but there is only one difference, she reverses the historical conventions associated with sonnets. Instead of a traditional male speaker who addresses to a woman, we see a female speaker who addresses a man. She rejects the traditional conventions to show the woman’s perspective of such tragic love. This rejection of traditions creates a great impact on a reader. It can provoke woman to see world from another perspective. (In the context of the poem. It was published in 1921, the time when women received right to vote.)

This unnamed sonnet is about love failure. The lyrical heroine remembers her relationship with the man. At first they were just friends (…and I call you friend), then the feelings grew into something more powerful that we call true love (but well enough we know how thick about us root, how rankly grow those subtle weeds no man has need to tend…), but in the end we see that they don’t have chances to be together in the future (how such matters go we are aware, and how such matters end.). The octave describes female speaker’s love story and then in the sestet lyrical heroine compares her tragic love story with another. Millay alluding to three similar tragic love stories: Tristan and Isolde; the love story of Lancelot and Guinevere, and the story that is told in the 5th Canto of Dante's Inferno. In Tristan and Isolde, both of them drink the love potion and fall in love and in the end Tristan dies. Lancelot and Guinevere’s love story also has tragic end, Lancelot receives the Table's ruin for his tragic love for Guinevere. And the last story is about two lovers Francesca and Paolo, they fall in love but in the end they are both killed by the Giovanni (older brother of Paolo).

All these stories have tragic end and the reason of this misfortune is that all of these couples were secret lovers. According to these allusions we can say that female speaker also experienced secret love and she knows the result of this. Lyrical heroine knows that there is no future being in such relationships. These allusions make a great impact on a reader. The poet could use only one allusion and we would understand the whole tragedy, but she uses three to strongly emphasize this problem of secret love.


Tristan and Isolde
Tristan and Isolde

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    • Missy Smith profile image

      Missy Smith 

      3 years ago from Florida

      This was interesting for sure. My poetry is actually of a woman's view, my view, of love lost I have experienced. Although, I wouldn't categorize my poetry as sonnets. I think mine are more lyrical. I love all the love stories you mentioned. Love is beautiful and makes for beautiful moving poetry. :)

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