By Sara Constantakis, Erik France, Kate Hamill, Joseph McGeary, Timothy Showalter

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Extra resources for Poetry for Students, Vol. 31

Example text

While it deviates somewhat from the traditional lyric form that the modernist poets scorned her for using, it retains the personal force present in her lyric voice and poetry since the beginning of her career. The figure of Penelope the weaver in ‘‘An Ancient Gesture’’ can be seen as a symbol not only for woman’s trials in general but also for the trials of the woman artist in a man’s world. Jane Stanbrough’s reading of ‘‘An Ancient Gesture’’ in Critical Essays on Edna St. ’’ Debra Fried, in a rebuttal to Stanbrough published in the same volume, asserts that Millay demonstrates not the vulnerability of women but their strength.

First, Oliver suggests that passion and the irrational belief that death will not touch a person are a gift. They allow a person to continue happily throughout his or her life and get up every morning believing that the day will be good. It is also possible, however, to read a bleaker message in the poem. While a snake can go about its business literally unaware that its life will one day end, perhaps violently under the wheels of a truck, humans do not have that luxury. As self-aware creatures, the only way that humans can escape thoughts of the inevitability of death is through self-deception and denial, or by engaging in fantasy.

She does not, however, use a period at the end of this line, such that the sentence carries over to the next stanza in a technique called enjambment. Enjambment breaks a syntactic unit, such as a sentence or phrase, across lines or stanzas. Thus, Oliver begins a sentence at the very end of the third stanza that she does not complete until the fourth line of the fourth stanza. Lines 13–16 The fourth stanza begins with a coordinate conjunction, a word such as ‘‘and’’ or ‘‘but’’ used to join parts of a sentence together.

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