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On "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word"

Sandra M. Glibert

…[F]rom A Few Figs From Thistles onward, Millay costumes herself as a femme fatale in order to recreate conventional love scenes as interviews which would be fatal to male rather than female lovers. Seducing her paramours with glittering rhymes and stylishly crafted sonnets, she betrays them in closing stanzas and final couplets that mock and shock. For example, such sonnets as "I, being born a woman and distressed" and "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!" note the needs of the flesh with amused detachment but redefine romance as a comic game so that the female vulnerability which the writer stresses in her more serious works becomes merely a temporary problem. Though the speaker of "I, being born a woman and distressed" admits that her desire may leave her "undone, possessed," she warns her lover that "I find this frenzy insufficient reason / For conversation when we meet again." And though the protagonist of "Oh, oh, you will be sorry for that word!" responds to her lover’s insulting remark "What a big book for such a little head!" by appearing to acquiesce to his patronizing misogyny – "You will not catch me reading anymore" – her lighthearted remarks end with a threat:

And some day when you knock and push the door,
Some sane day, not too bright and not to stormy,
I shall be gone, and you may whistle for me.

Elsewhere, however, the flippancy of these stanzas is translated into a rhetoric of greater hauteur. "Women have loved before as I love now," from Fatal Interview, revises "chivalric romance" to cast its speaker as a Guinevere or Isolde whose autonomous consciousness is the controlled center, not the uncontrollable calamity, of romantic idyll; while "Well, I have lost you; and lost you fairly," from the same sequence, characterizes the speaker as a female Good Soldier, tough and generous. Finally, "I too beneath your moon, almighty sex" reviews and reappraises a post-Havelock Ellis, post-Freud love life with calm, if sardonic, self-scrutiny.

Sandra M. Gilbert, "Female Female Impersonator: Millay and the Theatre of Personality" in Critical Essays on Edna St. Vincent Millay. William B. Thesing, ed. New York: G.K. Hall and Co., 1993; 301.

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