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Sample Analysis of a Poem Essay

Listen, children:
Your father is dead.
From his old coats
I’ll make you little jackets;
I’ll make you little trousers
From his old pants.
There’ll be in his pockets
Things he used to put there,
Keys and pennies
Covered with tobacco;
Dan shall have the pennies
To save in his bank;
Anne shall have the keys
To make a pretty noise with.
Life must go on,
And the dead be forgotten;
Life must go on,
Though good men die;
Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine;
Life must go on;
I forget just why.

Source: “Second April by Edna St. Vincent Millay.” Poet’s Corner. 2003. 25 Apr. 2007 <>

In Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem “Lament,” the speaker, a mother whose husband has just passed away, must face both her grief and the continued daily needs of her children: clothing, medicine, food. The children learn of their father’s death in no euphemistic terms as their mother tells them, “Listen, children: Your father is dead.” Rather than immediately becoming emotional, she focuses on the practical needs of her children, telling them that she’ll make them pants and jackets from his old clothing.

She says, “Life must go on,” and “the dead must be forgotten,” stoically facing a bleak future. The poem’s only overt emotional reference comes when the speaker repeats, “Life must go on,” and adds, “I forget just why.” This last line is a clear indication of the hopelessness and emptiness that the speaker feels now that her loved one is gone, a common expression of frustration with the absurdity of death. Although all individuals grieve differently, this poem represents a universal expression: that life must go on even when we feel like it cannot.

Poetic Devices: 1. Apostrophe: the poem is a direct address from mother to children, as evidenced by the first line “Listen, children:” 2. Repetition: the speaker’s frequent statement that “Life must go on” emphasizes the cruelty of death for the living; daily life continues despite the absence of those we love.

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