Free Verse Techniques Conveying Structure An Analysis of “Spring” By Edna St. Vincent Millay Composed in free verse, the poem “Spring” by Edna St. Vincent Millay contains many poetic elements that create a feeling of structure throughout. As free verse challenges the conventions of writing, so too, does St. Vincent Millay’s interpretation of Spring challenge societies conventional beliefs associated with the season. Millay uses various different poetic elements of writing as effective alternatives to conventional methods of prose such as use of quatrain, and an adherence to metric and rhyme schemes.
Elevating itself from such conventions, Millay’s poem incorporates the use of personification, thought provoking questions, repetition, figurative language, both positive and negative imagery, and irregular sentence length. All these free verse techniques work harmoniously to successfully challenge conventional beliefs associated with Spring; portraying it negatively as an annual occurrence that is both ignorant and annoying. The free verse technique, personification, enhances the images portrayed in “Spring” by creating deeper meanings.
Millay asks “To what purpose, April, do you return again? ”(1) By referring to Spring as “April,”(1) one see’s Millay has given this season a specific name. The action of naming the season “April”(1) is an example of personification, giving an inanimate thing a woman’s name. Looking at the season from this sense, one can infer that Millay portrays Spring within the poem as an unsatisfying lover. This becomes evident when Millay states “beauty is not enough,”(2) as a reason for the seasons return.
From a personified standpoint, one can interpret this as a lover’s inability to sustain a relationship with beauty alone. The element of personification is seen again when Millay professes “You can no longer quiet me. ”(3) When Millay states this she provides Spring with the ability of a person to talk over another, silencing them. Similarly, an unsatisfied lover commonly refuses to remain unheard when upset. As well as being portrayed as an unsatisfying lover, Millay also uses personification to depict Spring as an annoying and ignorant person.
This assumption is reinforced in the latter part of the poem, when Millay personifies “April” once more unsatisfied with the seasons return, stating “April Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. ” (17-18) By again referring to the season of Spring as “April,”(1,17) as well as associating the month with human characteristics and activities such as being an “idiot,” “babbling,” and “strewing flowers,”(18) the personification of Spring becomes even more clear. From this perspective, just as Spring cannot appease Millay with beauty or prospect of flowers, one cannot truly mend a broken relationship with words and gifts alone.
The actions of “babbling” and “strewing”(18) are associated with ignorance, thus one can assume Millay is annoyed with the month of Spring, as people who receive flowers are most likely doing so because they have been annoyed or hurt by their significant other. Just as Spring continually returns, creating life ignorant of death, an annoying lover returns to a damaged heart, ignorant to the absence of love. Millay uses free verse elements, more specifically thought-provoking questions, to enhance the overall poetic feeling of “Spring”. Beginning with the proposal of a question, “To what purpose, April, do you return again? (1) Millay blatantly challenges the reason behind natural order. Millay again does this when stating, “It is apparent that there is no death. But what does that signify? ”(9-10) Here the author professes the absence of death to be an insignificant reason for happiness; yet another morbid thought attributing to the negative overall feel of the poem. These questions force the reader to contemplate more deeply, searching for a question with no distinct answer, and thus provoking deeper thought. By questioning springs return in the beginning of the poem, and immediately answering it negatively, Millay sets the morbid tone.
The thought-provoking questions Millay uses thus work successfully to establish a dismal overall mood for the poem. Edna St. Vincent Millay also uses the free verse element of repetition throughout her poem to enhance its overall message. Repeated words provide one with mental reminders of an object or beings relevance to the poem, as well as its characteristics. Millay uses repetition to strengthen her overall portrayal of “Spring” as something negative when she repeats the phrase “is not enough”(2,16) In both instances the author denounces the significance of the seasons return, causing the reader to view “Spring” in a negative light.
Interestingly, these repeated words come at the beginning and end of the poem, this allows Millay to reinforce the insignificance of springs beauty and new life throughout. Another instance of repetition which attributes to the overall message of the poem occurs when Millay lists “The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of the crocus. The smell of the earth is good. ” All of these listed things provide one with mental image associated with spring in three brief lines. This allows Millay to repeatedly bombard the reader with images of Spring, thus enhancing the overall negative message conveyed in the poem.
Millay’s use of free verse allows her to present imagery which successfully conveys life in a positive manner. The first instance in which imagery is found within the poem, “redness Of little leaves opening stickily” (3-4) provides an example of positive imagery associated with birth and new life, this is because it causes one to imagine the blossoming of flowers in Spring time. Another wave of positive images follow, as Millay states, “The sun is hot on my neck as I observe The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good. ” (6-8) The warmth of the sun on one’s neck portrays the comforting aspect of Springs weather, and the observation of the Crocus plant growing provides an image of new life. Finally, Millay refers to the “good” smell of the Earth, alluding to the wonderful aroma new plant life gives off in Spring. Thus St. Vincent Millay successfully provides the reader with positive images associated with Spring in the beginning half of the poem, which she then proceeds to contradict in the latter portion.
Millay effectively utilizes free verse, using unexpected negative imagery to convey her desired portrayal of Spring, as well as life. After previously stuffing the readers mind with positive images, the readers train of thought becomes disrupted as Millay begins to unleash the bad, stating “Not only under ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. ” (16-17) These lines work to provide the reader with a morbid image of decaying dead bodies, as well as deaths presence in the world. This allows Millay to effectively denounce Spring, seeing as although it creates new life, it cannot overpower the force of death.
Following this, Millay proclaims, “Life in itself Is nothing, An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs,” (13-15) further accentuating her dismal outlook on the contradicting season of Spring, and more importantly, life. She then ends the poem reinstating these negative ideals through the image of Spring coming “like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers. ”(18) One is forced by Millay’s imagery to picture Spring literally as an ignorant fool prancing around throwing flowers without purpose. Through her portrayal of these negative images, Millay is thus able to encompass her overall negative views f Spring effectively. The free verse element of irregular sentence length in St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Spring” works to bring the ideas of the author to an ultimate conclusion. One can see the irregularity of sentence length throughout, but it is most powerful when Millay states, “Not only under ground are the brains of men Eaten by maggots. Life in itself Is nothing”(11-14) The reader is now presented with the culmination of the authors thought as the sentences dwindle down, made of gradually fewer words. This irregular sentence structure causes the reader to begin to anticipate an ultimatum.
The ultimatum in this instance is that “Life is nothing,”(14) and considering that Spring’s main purpose is to bring new life, it too is portrayed to be meaningless and ignorant of death’s eternal presence. Free verse is poetry which separates itself from the confines of prose. It is free of metric and rhyme schemes, and strives to portray an effect of freedom. In conclusion, I believe that Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Spring” provides a candid example of what T. S. Eliot argued free verse poetry ought to be like. I believe when he stated “No verse is free for the man who wants to do good,” T.
S. Eliot was implying that all verse in itself must have some sort of poetic element, technique, or structure in order to be “good. ” Therefore no good verse may be in fact “free” of adherence to poetic techniques. Thus, while adhering to the previously addressed techniques associated with prose, Millay’s poem is able to effectively assert the desired feeling of free verse. The free verse elements at work in Millay’s “Spring” commendably challenges the conventions of prose, as well as the traditional views associated with Spring, portraying both negatively, and stressing their annoyance.