Wild Swans Themes (Edna St. Vincent Millay)

Edna St. Vincent Millay


The speaker responds to the swans largely because they seem to fly with such direction and purpose. This direction contrasts with the speaker’s uncertainty and confusion, as evident when she looks into her heart and finds “only a question less or a question more.” Her heart has apparently been filled with questions for some time (“And what did I see I had not seen before?”), because she is nonchalant about finding nothing but questions there. She is emotionally uncertain, and she feels lost. In this state, she seeks guidance or reassurance, which is why she reacts to the swans so intensely. She sees in them the confidence and purpose she desires for herself.

That the birds are in flight is very significant to the speaker. She reiterates their action throughout the poem, and in line four, she mentions it twice: “Nothing to match the flight of wild birds flying.” The act of flying requires certainty. A bird cannot indulge in uncertainty while in flight because it requires constant effort. All the movements must be perfectly coordinated and directed toward an unwavering purpose. The speaker, however, is standing motionless and looking up at the sky. Standing in one place, she has the potential to go in any direction, but she does not know where to go until the end of the poem, when she calls for the swans to return.

Emotional Exhaustion
The speaker’s emotional exhaustion shapes her state of mind in the poem. She has been struggling with her emotions...

(The entire section is 624 words.)