I Think I Should Have Loved You Presently Summary

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Edna St. Vincent Millay’s works are complex packages to parcel through. A common theme found in her poetry is her sexual history, but one stands out more keenly than the rest of the selected readings. In her poem “I Think I Should Have Loved You Presently,” Millay subverts the conventional sonnet through her writing structure and her non-romantic narrative. First, we must examine the difference between the traditional sonnet and Millay’s unique flavor of sonnet. The traditional sonnet is a poem comprised of 14 lines, characterized by three rhyming quatrains and a couplet. The expectation of a sonnet is that it portrays the genuine romantic sentiments toward a woman from a man’s perspective, as William Shakespeare or William Yeats famously …show more content…
“I think I should have loved you presently, And given in earnest words I flung in jest” (1-2). Here she parrots the title of her sonnet and says to the man that she wishes she had meant all of the sweet nothings passed between them, the “words [she] flung in jest.” As if to prove to him that she is being serious in her words now, she further escalates her language in the subsequent lines: “And lifted honest eyes for you to see, And caught your hand against my cheek and breast” (3-4). Millay is boldly acknowledging her sexual relationship with the man and that she wishes she had “caught [his] hand.” By this she means that she wishes she could have returned his affections and savored the intimacy between them, that she understands the truth of her feelings now looking back with “honest eyes” she wishes she had had then. On the surface, this opening quatrain seems to convey that Millay realizes she was wrong to merely want sex from the man, that he could have very well been the love of her life and that she wasted her opportunity. Millay continues on in the same manner for the following stanzas, her words climaxing with a particularly overt innuendo: “Naked of reticence and shorn of pride,
Spread like a chart my little wicked ways” (7-8). Here, she is conveying to the reader that not only did she have quality, fulfilling sex without ego or hesitance to get in the
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Millay is outright saying that the imagined potential relationship between the two of them exists only in dreams. In a sense, this is the modern equivalent of saying she’d only date him in his dreams. This sudden turn in the sonnet’s narrative is Millay finally letting us in on the joke. She is playing with the man’s and with the reader’s expectations. We expect a woman to look back on her past exploits and think to herself that she was wrong not to settle down with someone who so obviously admired her, especially one of whom she had slept with. It’s as though Millay spent the entire first eight stanzas telling the reader exactly what a woman ought to feel to meet society’s proprietary ideal, but is now rolling her eyes at it. Millay is able to understand that what she and the man had was purely sex; They were sexual objects to one another and she is not sorry about it: “And walk your memory 's halls, austere, supreme” (12). Here, she is outright saying that she exists as an ideal concept in his mind’s eye, that whatever feelings the man could claim to have for her are merely through the rose colored lenses of nostalgia. He is in love with the memory of her, he never truly new her. She calls herself a “ghost in marble of a girl you knew” (13), comparing herself to a marble statue to point out

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