Edna St. Vincent Millay

October 10, 2006

millay.jpg
(1892-1950)

Major poetic voice of the rebellious Jazz Age
Hailed as the greatest female poet since Sappho of ancient Greece
Wrote for the American mass-media culture of newspapers, magazines, radio, live stage, and the national lecture circuit
Served as the personification of “The New Woman” of European-American bourgeois society
Flaunted Victorian conventions of femininity while serving as a flapper heroine and political rebel icon
Became the first woman poet to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry
Robert Frost viewed her as his most serious competitor: feared she would be elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters ahead of him
Raised in Maine by a single mother
Educated at Vassar College
Not only a gifted poet but also a talented playwright and actress
Gained fame for public poetry readings
Master of traditional forms, sonic effects, and memorable images and phrases
Frankly expressed her sexual independence: conducted many love affairs with both men and women
Married Eugen Bossevain, widower of the great suffragist Inex Milholland
Valued for strong and accomplished voice in the traditionally male-dominated genre of sonnet, sometimes painful inward probings, and for her eloquent and outspoken assertion of her political and social beliefs

Quotations:

I shall forget you presently, my dear, / So make the most of this, your little day, / Your little month, your little half a year, / Ere I forget, or die, or move away, / And we are done forever; by and by / I shall forget you, as I said, but now, / If you entreat me with your loveliest lie / I will protest you with my favourite vow. / I would indeed that love were longer-lived, / And oaths were not so brittle as they are, / But so it is, and nature has contrived / To struggle on without a break thus far, – / Whether or not we find what we are seeking / Is idle, biologically speaking.

-I shall forget you presently, my dear (in whole)

Only until this cigarette is ended, / A little moment at the end of all, / While on the floor the quiet ashes fall, / And in the firelight to a lance extended, / Bizarrely with the jazzing music blended, / The broken shadow dances on the wall, / I will permit my memory to recall / The vision of you, by all my dreams attended. / And then adieu, -farewell!-the dream is done. / Yours is a face of which I can forget / The colour and the features, every one, / The words not ever, and the smiles not yet; / But in your day this moment is the sun / Upon a hill, after the sun has set.

-Only until this cigarette is ended (in whole)

We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / Itwas bare and bright, and smelled like a stable- / But we looked into a fire, we leaned across a table, / We lay on a hill-top underneath the moon; / And the whistles kept blowing, and the dawn came soon.
We were very tired, we were very merry- / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry; / And you ate an apple, and I ate a pear, / From a dozen of each we had bought somewhere; / And the sky went wan, and the wind came cold, / And the sun rose dripping, a bucketful of gold.
We were very tired, we were very merry, / We had gone back and forth all night on the ferry. / We hailed, ‘Good morrow, mother!’ to a shawl-covered head, / And bought a morning paper, which neither of us read; / And she wept, ‘God bless you!’ for the apples and pears, / And we gave her all our money but our subway fares.

-Recuerdo (in whole)

Based on her late-night perambulations through New York City with her fellow poet Salomon de la Selva
Recuerdo means remembrance, recollection, or souvenir in Spanish
My reflect the native language of de la Selva
Makes a point of the liberated, cosmopolitan lifestyle of Jazz Age New York and the joys of heterosexual romance
Also suggests the quiet suffering of those left behind by the economic boom

I, being born a woman and distressed / By all the needs and notions of my kind, / Am urged by your propinquity to find / Your person fair, and feel certain zest / To bear your body’s weight upon my breast: / So subtly is the fume of life designed, / To clarify the pulse and cloud the mind, / And leave me once again undone, possessed. / Think not for this, however, the poor treason / Of my stout blood against my staggering brain, / I shall remember you with love, or seas / My scorn with pity, -let me make it plain: / I find this frenzy insufficient reason / For conversation when we meet again.

-I, being born a woman and distressed (in whole)

Struggle between bodily impulses and rationality of the mind
Biological and social implications of being a woman

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, / I have forgotten, and what arms have lain / Under my head till morning; but the rain / Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh / Upon the glass and listen for reply, / And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain / For unremembered lads that not again / Will turn to me at midnight with a cry. / Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree, / Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one, / Yet knows its boughs more silent than before: / I only know that summer sang in me / A little while, that in me sings no more.

-What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why (in whole)

My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends- / It gives a lovely light!

-First Fig (in whole)

Safe upon the solid rock the ugly houses stand: / Come and see my shining palace built upon the sand!

-Second Fig (in whole)

Was it for this I uttered prayers, / And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs, / That now, domestic as a plate, / I should retire at half-past eight?

-Grown-up (in whole)

 

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