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Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "The Spring and the Fall" is a narrative poem about a young couple's relationship over the course of some months, from spring to fall, which ends with a broken heart for one of them.
In poetry and in life, spring has become a symbol of new birth, renewal, and love. It is not surprising, then, that the couple are in love during the spring. They walk together, and he romantically breaks off a branch from a blossoming peach tree for her enjoyment. This walking and these trees, their bark wet with spring rains, are things she remembers and will see again each spring.
Time passes, and now it is fall. The couple still walks side by side, and she can still hear the sounds of the rooks as they raucously call out to them. But something is different now;
He laughed at all I dared to praise,
And broke my heart, in little ways.
In the next stanza it is fall and things are dying, and we see here the first evidence of the dying relationship. As she finds small beauties to praise, he laughs at her. That kind of laughter is hurtful rather than loving, and it is clear that the relationship is dying. His laughter at these things breaks her heart.
In the final stanza, the relationship is over and the speaker expresses a sense of relief. Unlike the previous stanzas, we do not know (or need to know) what season it is now; however, we do know that life has gone on, and the things she once found pleasurable are still pleasurable to her.
There's much that's fine to see and hear
In the spring of a year, in the fall of a year.
She is fine now, and her heart is no longer broken. In the last two lines she explains what hurt her the most about the relationship:
'Tis not love's going hurt my days.
But that it went in little ways.
Another way of expressing these lines is this: I am not really upset that the love is gone; I only wish our love had not died by little hurts over so long a time (from spring to fall).
The most obvious imagery in the poem centers around the seasons, spring and fall. The relationship is born in the spring and eventually dies in the fall, just as trees gradually lose their leaves and the weather gradually gets colder as winter approaches. While Millay does not give many specific details of these seasons, those she does give are important.
Most of the specific imagery concerns the trees and the birds she experiences both with her lover and without him. The trees which had black bark because they were wet is something she sees in the spring they had together and knows she will see it again next spring. The same is true of the cawing of the rooks which she heard in their fall together; when fall comes around again, she knows she will hear them. Imagery here, then, is used thematically to demonstrate that life will go on for the narrator, with or without someone to love.
Three other images in this poem are quite striking. The first is the branch of peach blossoms.
He broke me a bough of the blossoming peach
That was out of the way and hard to reach.
The peach blossoms are not only fragrant and beautifully fresh, but they symbolize new life, for the blossoms precede the fruit. The branch was rather tucked away, indicating the lover's willingness to go out of his way for her.
In contrast, the rooks fly and cry out raucously, certainly a bad omen for the doomed couple.
The man's insensitive laugh is one final sound of doom for this relationship, and it is this sound that eventually breaks the woman's heart.
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