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Saint Edna Vincent Millay – Life and Recommended Works

by Akanksha Kinwaar

“Thou art not lovelier than lilacs, —no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not fairer
Than small white single poppies, —I can bear
Thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though
From left to right, not knowing where to go”

The dictum, “Le style est I'homme meme”, which means ‘the style is the man himself’, precisely suited St. Edna Vincent Millay. An American lyrical poet and playwright, the literary vein and the spirit has been there in her since her childhood. She began indulging herself in writing poetry and winning for the same at the budding age of 14 when she won the St. Nicholas Gold Badge. The array of medals and its glitters lit her paths up and let her come out of her miserable background bereft of a genuine guardianship. Though she was all an epitome of her single mother, independent and fierce.

Saint Edna Vincent Millay – Life and Recommended Works

Winning the Pulitzer Prize was not only historical but phenomenal. She became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for the poetry in 1923 for “The Ballad of the Harp- Weaver”. Outspoken and free-willed, her verse act as a medium for her feminist approach and activism. She was highly acknowledged for her enthusiastic creation of sonnets and operas that gave her a household name in America. Thomas Hardy went on to an extent when he appreciated and said:

“America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of St. Edna Vincent Millay.”

“Mindful of you the sodden earth in spring,

And all the flowers that in the springtime grow,

And dusty roads, and thistles, and the slow

Rising of the round moon, all throats that sing

The summer through, and each departing wing,

And all the nests that the bared branches show,

And all winds that in any weather blow,

And all the storms that the four seasons bring.”

With the authoritative figure that she had, it was almost impossible for her to settle down with things quite established with other female figures but she had the ambience of creating charm and penning down what she felt. Not only she wrote in the early years of her life but wrote some of the greatest poetry in the later stage as well when she was sick for years.

Some of her incredible works that I would recommend are:

  1. Renascence and Other Poems

“All I could see from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood;

I turned and looked another way,

And saw three islands in a bay.

So with my eyes I traced the line

Of the horizon, thin and fine,

Straight around till I was come

Back to where I'd started from;

And all I saw from where I stood

Was three long mountains and a wood”.

Saint Edna Vincent Millay – Life and Recommended Works

One of the most remarkable works by Edna Vincent and my absolute favourite is Renascence which is written with continual words in rhythmed couplets. Overviewing from the top, she subtly blends the beauty of nature and the sentiments of human on earth. The pain and the hardship being most openly subsisting in an individual’s life is contradicted with the unique seasons of nature. She talks of the sky being eternal, the wood being strong, the earth being raw and the breeze being fragrant.

Renascence and other poems consist of more than fifteen poems with the titles, The interim, God’s world, The suicide, Afternoon on a hill, Sorrow, Tavern, Ashes of Life etc. and sonnets.  The author does not only emphasize on sorrow but she cuts out agony like the winter is cut out by summer and summer by rain, which means we grow, we evolve and that’s rebirth, that’s renascence.

  1. The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver

“Son,” she said, “the sight of you 

   Makes your mother’s blood crawl,—

 Little skinny shoulder-blades

   Sticking through your clothes!

And where you’ll get a jacket from

   God above knows.”

Saint Edna Vincent Millay – Life and Recommended Works

Beautiful, poignant and authentic in every expression, the poetess has weaved such a heart-warming poetry that touches every soul. It's not just about the bond between a mother and her son but about the concept of motherly duties that a woman is pressurised for, her selflessness and devotion for a relationship. The simpler the lines seem, the more layers it carries. Each word is a hammer on the conventional consideration that a society has lived by, how the patriarchy makes every son assume that the women’s choice is nothing but unnecessary like a harp where they weave false dreams but still provides and attains to fulfil every man's need. The more a woman gives attention to the contentment of others, the more her love for herself gets faded like fog in the morning sun.

  1. Second April

“To what purpose, April, do you return?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.”

There is charm and maturity in the composition; it makes the reader still- sensing the shadow and wilderness but then it’s also like the fresh cream of a smoothie that melts in your mouth like the poetries here that melts in your heart. The perfect reflection of the author’s personality in her work.

Miss Millay wrote this book dedicating it to her lovely friend or a lover, straight out of her heart. The way she explores the beauty of April where the trees and flowers are the merriest and also before and after this month symbolises her own life, her boldness, and the acceptance of her sexuality which is nothing but the perfect example of how a woman should be.

Saint Edna Vincent Millay – Life and Recommended Works

  1. Afternoon on a Hill

“I will be the gladdest thing
    Under the sun!
I will touch a hundred flowers
    And not pick one.

I will look at cliffs and clouds
    With quiet eyes,
Watch the wind bow down the grass,
    And the grass rise.

And when lights begin to show
    Up from the town,
I will mark which must be mine,
    And then start down!”

Afternoon on a Hill is straightforward, elegant and impressive with simple tone that addresses nature, its beauty, and being in the moment. The author appreciates the afternoon splendour where the sun radiates positivity and the beautiful flowers reflects elegance. The author speaks of how she wants to look at the flowers but not touch them, how she wants to lay down and do nothing. She barely wants to interfere with the cycle of the nature and savour the moment. This is about experiencing what is God made.

The poetess' exploration of the outer world can be seen as a break from her own occupied life as what she wants now is to revitalise herself for a peaceful and a better mind.

When I first came to know about her, I was mesmerised by her and felt dreadful for not knowing about her earlier. I began reading her books and learning to be myself more than what people expect me to be. She was rebellious but was true to herself, honest with her identity, and that’s the most impressive thing about her. Edna Vincent Millay might be underrated but her work speaks more of her and will always do. She instantly became my favourite and I would like you to read her works. A poet I can’t recommend enough!

- Akanksha Kinwaar

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