The Perfect Poem for Sentence Combos


Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Sonnet 36 is just one sentence, in fact:

Hearing your words, and not a word among them
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut,
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
And children whimpered and the doors blew shut;
There in the autumn when the men go forth,
With slapping skirts the island women stand
In gardens stripped and scattered, peering north,
With dahlia tubers dripping from the hand:
The wind of their endurance, driving south,
Flattened your words against your speaking mouth.

Students can be asked to identify where the opening subordinate clause actually stops (end of line 4) and where the first independent clause stops (end of line 8) with the understanding that this is not a run-on sentence!

Millay uses various methods of sentence coordination, with the coordinating conjunction “and” in line 8 as well as a semicolon at the end of that line, and a colon at the end of line 12. She also employs different subordinating conjunctions like “when” in lines 3 and 9 and “how” in line 5.

Students can be asked to go online and examine an additional poem by Millay (the Academy of American Poets lists 34 works in its collection). Does she consistently write one-sentence poems? Does she have favorite methods of sentence construction?


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