What questions about the speaker are left unanswered in "An Ancient Gesture"?

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The speaker in this poem is sad, but we don't know exactly what has caused the circumstances of her grief. We learn that she wipes her eyes on the corner of her apron. We learn too that she identifies with Penelope.

Penelope is an allusion to Odysseus's (Ulysses, as Millay...

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The speaker in this poem is sad, but we don't know exactly what has caused the circumstances of her grief. We learn that she wipes her eyes on the corner of her apron. We learn too that she identifies with Penelope.

Penelope is an allusion to Odysseus's (Ulysses, as Millay calls him) wife in the Odyssey. Odysseus was missing for twenty years journeying home, and Penelope waited for him faithfully. As Millay's poem tells us, Penelope wept with sadness because her husband was gone for so long, and she didn't know where he was.

We can imagine that the poem's speaker is in a similar situation. The first stanza makes it ambiguous whether the speaker is talking about only Penelope or herself and Penelope when she writes:

And your husband has been gone, and you don’t know where, for years,
Suddenly you burst into tears;
There is simply nothing else to do.
Even if the speaker's husband been has been gone for years, we don't know what the circumstances of his being missing are. This universalizes the woman's grief. It is not a specific incident we are reacting to as we read but the idea that loss and uncertainty are deeply painful. Being in a passive position is particularly hard, the poem implies. As that is often the plight of women in traditional societies, the speaker locates this sense of loss as primarily a woman's painshe says that Odysseus (Ulysses) made an "ancient gesture" (a show) of grief when he wiped his eyes but that Penelope, a woman, "really cried."
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