Analysis of “The Buck in the Snow” Poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“The Buck in the Snow” by Edna St. Vincent Millay is a contemporary poem about death made up of twelve lines divided into three stanzas. It has an unusual rhyming pattern of aaaaa-a-bacdaa to help give unity to the overall rhythm of the work.

Millay’s poem has some resemblances to other contemporary works like Loomis’ “Deer Hit” and Collins’ “Afternoon with Irish Cows” in terms of style and theme. She is perhaps best known for her sonnets, but wrote in a number of various genres including poetry, plays, and prose. She won her first poetry contest when she was just 20 years old and then went on to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry in 1923 at the age of 31.

Edna St. Vincent Millay uses a wide variety of figurative language to help form her imagery and emotion in “The Buck in the Snow”. Let’s take a look at it go over a line-by-line analysis of the entire poem.

Summary

“The Buck in the Snow” is about a person who is thinking about how just a moment ago she was outside looking at the beautiful sky and saw a buck and a doe. The deer noticed something, raised up their tails, and ran off. The speaker then sees the buck dead, lying in the snow. The author turns her attention to the thought of death.

The final stanza speaks of “[h]ow strange a thing” it is that the doe is now far away. But the doe is alive, living.

This writing goes through the use of various repetitions of words like “hemlock” and “strange”. The poet also uses contrasting words like death/life to help set the tone and bring about emotions of the reader.

Analysis

Title: The Buck in the Snow
Style: Rhyming free style with twelve lines divided into three stanzas
Theme: Death
Tone: Somber
Rhyme scheme: AAAAA-A-BACDAA

Line-by-line Analysis and Figurative Language

    • White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow, – The color white signifies peace but hemlock signifies death. She is using contrast to play with the reader’s emotions.
    • Saw you not at the beginning of evening the antlered buck and his doe – Millay is furthering the setting. This line shows us that this is happening in the past.
    • Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them. I saw them suddenly go, – She sees the deer in the orchard but they get spooked. Is it because of the author or something else?
    • Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow, – This is just some nice imagery so we can imagine the looks of the deer.
    • Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow. – Again Millay is using “hemlocks” which signifies death.
    • Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding the snow. – Now she changes the grammar from past to present. The author now sees the deer, dead. Perhaps it was a hunter who scared the deer earlier.
    • How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing to his antlers – “Strange” is an interesting word to use here. Why is it “strange”? Likely because the buck looks majestic, so seeing it dead is heartbreaking and “weird”.
    • The buck in the snow. – A change of pace for the poem to help divide the poem a little more without having to create a new stanza.
    • How strange a thing,—a mile away by now, it may be, – Millay is repeating “how strange a thing”. “Thing” is likely referring to both the situation and the deer. “Strange” because the deer was with her partner yet had to run away due to what is likely a hunter.
    • Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass – Again, the poet is using the word “hemlocks”.
    • Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow— – The author changes the tone once again, focusing back on nature instead of death. She sees the deer move and the snow fall off of it.
    • Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe. – Once more Millay focuses on using opposites. She uses “life” this time to end the poem.

Poem: “The Buck in the Snow” by Edna St. Vincent Millay

White sky, over the hemlocks bowed with snow,
Saw you not at the beginning of evening the antlered buck and his doe
Standing in the apple-orchard? I saw them. I saw them suddenly go,
Tails up, with long leaps lovely and slow,
Over the stone-wall into the wood of hemlocks bowed with snow.

Now lies he here, his wild blood scalding the snow.

How strange a thing is death, bringing to his knees, bringing to his antlers
The buck in the snow.
How strange a thing,—a mile away by now, it may be,
Under the heavy hemlocks that as the moments pass
Shift their loads a little, letting fall a feather of snow—
Life, looking out attentive from the eyes of the doe.

Reader’s Reaction

Millay does an excellent job of bringing the entire scenery into our imagination. It is easy to picture the situation of a buck and doe in the snow on a cold winter’s evening. As she thrusts our emotions into somberness, it isn’t hard to visualize the buck dead near our feet and the doe far away in the distance, still living, and still being part of nature.

Gary R. Hess

Gary was born and raised on a small farm in rural Kansas. Today, he is teaching various nationalities English in Southeast Asia. Get his newest poetry eBook here.