Edna St. Vincent Millay

I went thru a long period when I really did not like traditional forms of poetry. There are still some traditional poets that I dislike. Shakespeare, for instance, irks me to no end. And I really, really, really dislike Poe, too. I think that all Poe did for poetry was inspire other people to write horrible art.

The other day, I went to the library with a pal and for some odd reason, Millay called to me. I picked her up and have been reading her on lunchbreaks, and after work, and in bed. Her springtime sentiments have me longing for blossoming trees and the first crocus poking thru the snow. At the same time, her preoccupation with death suits the dismal weather and sadly redundant personal life I’m encountering this winter.

It is odd that I like her work so much, as she is a little melodramatic. In “Renascence”, she goes from lying on her back and looking at the sky, to reaching into it, trying to touch it, to being crushed by eternity, to being buried and imagining the rain falling on the ground above her grave. If she didn’t have such vivid imagry, I think that I’d really hate her, but some of her lines sing with the pictures that they create. I’m a sucker for good imagry.

Her sonnets, for instance, have references to other poets, while also achieving their own world. Sonnet 1 from Renascence and other poems, for instance, which opens:

Thou art not lovlier than lilacs, -no,
Nor honeysuckle; thou art not more fair
than small white single poppies, – I can bear
thy beauty; though I bend before thee, though

This poem goes on to describe this love as poison which the narrator willingly drinks. It ends with the absolute perfect line: “I drink – and live – what has destroyed some men.” You can see links to Shakespear, my hated adversary, here. The comparisons of a love to flowers are quite classical in leaning. Millay takes this and folds it over with a good splash of her own self doomed sort of melodrama.

I recommend Millay to the new poet, but I want to warn this new poet that imitation may result in your poetry having a sappy, self indulgently melo-dramatic leaning. Read carefully, but do read. Enjoy Millay with a good cup of tea and a shortbread cookie. Or a muffin.

1 Comment

Filed under literature, Musings, poetry, Uncategorized

One response to “Edna St. Vincent Millay

  1. it is weird how formal verse kinda grows on you. at least the kind that has strains of modern themes or imagery. i was reading Gerard Manley Hopkins the other day and i actually liked it. time to get out the dusty norton anthologies! 🙂

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