The Penitent

The Penitent
By Edna St. Vincent Millay

I had a little Sorrow,

Born of a little Sin,

I found a room all damp with gloom

And shut us all within;

And, “Little Sorrow, weep,” said I,

“And, Little Sin, pray God to die,

And I upon the floor will lie

And think how bad I’ve been!”


Alas for pious planning —

It mattered not a whit!

As far as gloom went in that room,

The lamp might have been lit!

My Little Sorrow would not weep,

My Little Sin would go to sleep —

To save my soul I could not keep

My graceless mind on it!


So up I got in anger,

And took a book I had,

And put a ribbon on my hair

To please a passing lad.

And, “One thing there’s no getting by —

I’ve been a wicked girl,” said I;

“But if I can’t be sorry, why,

I might as well be glad!”

About the author

(Excerpted from

Throughout much of her career, Pulitzer Prize-winner Edna St. Vincent Millay [1892 – 1950] was one of the most successful and respected poets in America. She is noted for both her dramatic works, including Aria da capo, The Lamp and the Bell, and the libretto composed for an opera, The King’s Henchman, and for such lyric verses as “Renascence” and the poems found in the collections A Few Figs From Thistles, Second April, and The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, winner of the Pulitzer Prize in 1923. Like her contemporary Robert Frost, Millay was one of the most skillful writers of sonnets in the twentieth century, and also like Frost, she was able to combine modernist attitudes with traditional forms creating a unique American poetry. But Millay’s popularity as a poet had at least as much to do with her person: she was known for her riveting readings and performances, her progressive political stances, frank portrayal of both hetero and homosexuality, and, above all, her embodiment and description of new kinds of female experience and expression. “Edna St. Vincent Millay,” notes her biographer Nancy Milford, “became the herald of the New Woman.”

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