I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed Analysis by Edna St. Vincent Millay

This article is a short analysis of the poem I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed by Edna St. Vincent Millay.


  • Societal Norms 
  • Power
  • Love 
  • Restraint
  • Lust 
  • Temptation
  • Desperation 
  • Expectations
  • Sexual urges 
  • Repression
  • Dependence 
  • Self-control
  • Independence
  • Double Standards

Analysis Line by Line:

I, being born a woman and distressed
"I" - personal and singular
"being born" - the sense of existence
"a woman" - outlines her gender identity
"and distressed" - the burden
  • Suggests she was born into a label.
  • Connotations - stereotypes of the damsel in distress - women.
  • Implies restraints of society at the time.
  • Combining "a woman" and "distressed" creates a link.
By all the needs and notions of my kind
  • Refers to women as her "kind", outlining the differences between women and men.
  • It also creates a sense of unity within women.
  • "Needs and notions" - expectations, ideas and beliefs.
Am urged by your propinquity to find
  • The word "urged" has connotations of lust but in this instance, it may be used to express passion on a particular subject.
  • Propinquity - closeness.
  • The poem continues like a sentence over a number of lines.
Your person fair, and feel a certain zest
  • Zest - great enthusiasm and energy.
  • Will gladly bear the weight (links to the next line that follows).
  • "fair" could be referring to a complexion or describing a personality.
To bear your body's weight upon my breast:
  • Breast" could be a reference to heart (as this is where it is located) and therefore a suggestion about love.
  • "body's weight" could be physical or a mental weight that the writer is willing to endure for someone.
So subtly is the fume of life designed
  • Subtle - delicate or precise.
  • "Fume" could be used as the noun that describes gas as gasses can also be delicate and fume is a precise amount.
  • "fume" could also be a way to describe humanity as a poison or pollution to the Earth.
To Clarify the pulse and Cloud the mind
  • "Cloud the mind" suggests that something is unclear to the writer.
  • The "pulse" could refer back to "life" and how the pulse of the heart gives life to a human body.
  • There is a contrast of "clarify" suggesting something becoming clear and the clouding of the mind which suggests unclear.
And leave me once again undone, possessed.
  • "Leave me" may seem as an order but it can also be interpreted as a part of an argument.
  • Undone" implies that someone has taken something away from the writer, and left her incomplete.
  • The ideas of leaving her "possessed" has connotations of evil and demons.
  • Leaving her possessed in this view would contrast with "undone" as possession would leave her with something.
Think not this, however, the poor treason
  • "Poor treason" could mean a bad betrayal.
  • For example a poorly executed betrayal.
  • Some may suggest that there is a Change of tone in the poem at this point, Where before there were hints of desperation, And then the tone is more rebellious and it can be implied that the writer takes control.
Of stout blood against my staggering brain
  • "Stout" = strong.
  • "Stout blood" could be referring to the smell or a metaphor for bloodlines, meaning the writer comes from a strong family.
  • The brain could be "staggering" as it is overcome with lust.
I shall remember you With love, or season
  • Implies that she will remember someone fondly.
  • Could be viewed as the poet suggesting she links the idea of the person to seasons.
  • The mention of love adheres to the stereotype that women often are focused on notions of love.
  • "Or" suggests that there is an option, and links to her fluctuation of tone throughout the poem.
My scorn with pity - let me make it plain:
  • The idea that the poet has "Pity" for someone makes it seem like she has power because she feels sorry for them.
  • "Let me" seems like an order and is thus another way of implying power.
  • Along with "make it plain" is similar to 'make it simple' which has connotations of power and is also a stereotype of males, to have to explain things (at the time it was written) to women.
I find this frenzy insufficient reason
I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed Analysis
  • "Frenzy" = wild behavior.
  • In one View, the "frenzy" could be linked to falling in love.
  • Another view could be attitudes towards gender equality at the time the poem was written.
  • The poet claims the wild behavior to be not a good enough reason to talk to each other.
  • If linked to the second view, it could imply that she doesn't want to waste time talking about the simple idea of gender equality to people who don't understand.
For conversation when we meet again
  • The poem has 14 lines which is the typical form of a sonnet. The writer is a woman and therefore she may be outlining stereotypes of women writing love poems.
  • The poet uses "when" rather than 'if' we meet again, suggesting that it is a definite event.
  • This is the final line and it summarises what she wants to say.
  • One view of her summary is that she is done with talking about gender equality because it is simple to understand, but most don't.
  • Thus the title: "woman and distressed" - the link with stress and gender.
Next Post »