Norman A. Brittin: On "Sonnets from a Ungrafted Tree"

In "Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree" Millay relates the experience of "the New England woman" who returns in winter to her dying husband’s house to care for him although she has no love for him. The stark directness and the physical and psychological realism of the sequence are notable. The same observation of details that one finds, for example, in "Souvenir"… appears in these sonnets with utmost vividness; the startling precision of the imagery, both visual and auditory, is impressive…

Sister M. Madeleva [Chaucer’s Nuns and Other Essays. New York: D. Appleton and Co., 1925; 144-53.] thought the sonnets of this sequence were "so deeply rooted in New England soil that they might have been done by Robert Frost." In fact, she thought Frost "unquestionably" Millay’s teacher. True, the situation might make one think of "The Hill Wife" and "An Old Man’s Winter Night"; but Millay’s work in its rhythms and in its use of concrete detail is much closer to the honest, direct poetry of the early William Morris… As a sonnet sequence, it is related to [George] Meredith’s Modern Love and [Arthur Davison] Ficke’s Sonnets of a Portrait Painter… Meredith used a sixteen-line "sonnet" in Modern Love; similarly, Millay took liberties with the sonnet form in "Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree." She used three quatrains and a couplet, but the third quatrain rhymes e f f e, and the fourteenth line has seven feet. The usual Shakespearean content-divisions are ignored in most of the sonnets, which are treated as stanzas, fourteeners.

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Criticism Overview
Title Norman A. Brittin: On "Sonnets from a Ungrafted Tree" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Norman A. Brittin Criticism Target Edna St. Vincent Millay
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 28 May 2020
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication Edna St. Vincent Millay
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