Over a short twelve lines, the speaker in “The Buck in the Snow” mourns then philosophizes over the realism of death, which represents sin, vice, pain, and everything imperfect in the world. The imagery and diction chosen by Edna St. Vincent Millay suggest a sorrowful mood that matches the mournful prayer of the speaker in the first stanza: White sky, saw you not the buck and his doe? However they contrast the pensive tone of the speaker throughout the third stanza.
In the midst of the imagery of the buck and his doe, the reader may miss other words that hint at the meaning of the poem.
For example, Edna St. Vincent Millay uses enjambment between lines 2 and 3 to separate and draw attention to the phrase, “Standing in the apple-orchard” (line 3). The apple-orchard alludes to the Garden of Eden and its forbidden fruit. This idea is reaffirmed by the repetition of the word “hemlocks,” a poisonous plant (lines 1, 5, and 10). The deer leap “Over the stone-wall” (line 5) and into the wood containing the poisonous plant, just as Adam and Eve ate the morally poisonous fruit and had to leave the Garden.
St. Vincent Millay also heavily repeats the word “snow,” (lines 1, 5, 6, 8, and 11).
Along with the “White sky” (line 1), the snow suggests the natural purity of the world. However, once the buck jumps over the wall and dies, his “wild blood,” unruly and reckless, burns the pure and natural snow. The image of the buck’s fresh blood on the snow yearns to evoke the reader’s sympathy, yet the speaker’s collected tone imparts on the reader the commonness of the scene.
St. Vincent Millay manipulates diction in poem to create this tone. Repetition of the “L” and long “O” sounds throughout the poem lull the reader into a trance, detracting from the obvious mournful mood created by image of the dying buck, i. . the loss of the world’s purity.
However, knowing that death, corruption, sadness, are common enough that the speaker cogitates, “How strange a thing” (lines 7 and 9) but not, “how sad a thing,” forces the reader into a redoubled sense of melancholy. The speaker had begun by asking the white sky: did you not see this? The speaker had wondered why no higher power had intervened to stop the sudden tragedy that was echoed by imagery of the buck dying in slow motion. The speaker’s nearly instant recovery to reason, “how strange,” “how strange,” is actually his moral death.
Like the deer, he accepted the idea of bad things in the world and ate the fruit of reason. That acceptance further enforces the author’s point that everything and everyone is imperfect, the speaker of the poem included. Finally, the poem ends with Nature reflecting on the occurrences. The hemlocks “Shift their loads a little letting fall a feather of snow,” (line 11) as if to shed a tear for the loss of purity. Life, personified, “looks out attentive from the eyes of the doe” in the final line, implying a hunger to escape and suggesting the world naturally tends to be good, but has been spoiled, just as Eden was spoiled.