The Penitent

Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay
  • I had a little Sorrow,
  •   Born of a little Sin,
  • I found a room all damp with gloom
  •   And shut us all within;
  • And, “Little Sorrow, weep,” said I,
  • “And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
  • And I upon the floor will lie
  •   And think how bad I’ve been!”
  • Alas for pious planning —
  •   It mattered not a whit!
  • As far as gloom went in that room,
  •   The lamp might have been lit!
  • My little Sorrow would not weep,
  • My little Sin would go to sleep–
  • To save my soul I could not keep
  •   My graceless mind on it!
  • So up I got in anger,
  •   And took a book I had,
  • And put a ribbon on my hair
  •   To please a passing lad.
  • And, “One thing there’s no getting by —
  • I’ve been a wicked girl,” said I;
  • “But if I can’t be sorry, why,
  •   I might as well be glad!”

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892–1950) was born in Rockland, Maine, attended Vassar College, and upon graduation moved to Greenwich Village. In 1917, she published Renascence and Other Poems, and in 1922 she published A Few Figs from Thistles with Harper & Brothers, in which her thoroughly subversive poem “The Penitent” appeared. It is a poem typical of her provocative verse about love, sex, and romance. In 1923, when Millay was 31 years old, she published The Harp Weaver and Other Poems, which won the Pulitzer Prize. A master of rhymed, metrical forms and a superb sonneteer, Millay wrote a poetry that was at once witty, perceptive, passionate, provocatively unconventional in sentiment, and more often than not exquisitely wrought. Beautiful and bisexual, Millay had many lovers both before and during her marriage to Eugen Jan Boissevain. Her brilliant achievements in strict form place her in the first ranks of 20th-century American poets and today Millay’s poetry remains widely read and admired.

Share / Tools

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Google+
  • AddThis
  • Email

More from SDReader


Log in to comment

Skip Ad

Let’s Be Friends

Subscribe for local event alerts, concerts tickets, promotions and more from the San Diego Reader