What is the theme of "Lament" by Edna St. Vincent Millay?

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jmj616 eNotes educator| Certified Educator

"Lament," by Edna St. Vincent Millay, seems to be the address of a mother to her children, discussing the recent death of their father.

The mother gives two seemingly contradictory pieces of advice to the children about how to cope with the death of their father.

The first piece of advice is to hold on to little items that will help them remember their father:

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.

On the other hand, the mother advises the children that "Life must go on, / And the dead must be forgotten."

Continuing this vein of advice, the mother urges the children to continue with the mundane details of life:

Anne, eat your breakfast;
Dan, take your medicine...

The poem ends with a statement indicates the mystery of life and death:

Life must go on;
I forget just why.