Thursday, March 8, 2012

w.h.a.m: edna st. vincent millay

"Her voice is a string of colored beads, or steps leading into the sea."

Those beautiful words came from the pen of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a poet and playwright raised by a single mother of three in Rockland, Maine during the late 1800s.  Millay's mother valued independence and drive, and cultivated this in her daughters.  She also instilled in them an appreciation for music and literature.  Encouraged by her mother, Millay submitted one of her early poems, Renascence, in a literary contest and took fourth place.  The poem was featured in The Lyric Year, and the acknowledgement earned her a scholarship to Vassar and wide recognition as a poet.  The year she graduated, she also published her first book of poetry, Renascence and Other Poems.

Millay's first book of poetry
photo via

Edna spent several of her  her post-college years in Greenwich Village writing plays and short stories. She describes she and her friends at this time as "very, very poor and very, very merry."  Soon after she took a writing gig with Vanity Fair, which lead her to Europe for a time.  She was able to send for her mother at one point during her three year stay abroad and they toured France and England together.  Millay published several plays, short stories and poems and was the first woman awarded the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.

 Nancy Milford, a biographer who wrote about Millay in a book entitled, Savage Beauty, has this to say about her:  "If F. Scott Fitzgerald was the hero of the Jazz Age, Edna St. Vincent Millay, as flamboyant in her love affairs as she was in her art, was its heroine. Millay was dazzling in the performance of herself. Her voice was likened to an instrument of seduction and her impact on crowds, and on men, was legendary. Yet beneath her studied act, all was not well."
photo via

Millay was deeply impacted by the atrocities and injustices of her time and this is reflected in her poetry. Italy's violent assaults on Ethiopia and the German-Russian nonaggression treaty, prompted Millay to pen pro-British and pro-French propaganda poetry. In Huntsman, What Quarry? Millay wrote about the brutalities of Nazi Germany, imperialistic Japan and Fascist Spain. Millay wrote The Murder of Lidice which depicts the German army slaughter of an entire Czech village.

Millay continues to be considered one of the best American sonnet writers of the twentieth century.  She is appreciated for writing about the things that moved her in an uncompromizing, genuine and unflinching and beautiful way.

*factual content for this article gathered from here, here, here, here and here.

** this post kicks off a series I will be doing in honor of Women's History Month entitled, "women's history all month (w.h.a.m.)."  i will be profiling women who are accomplished musicians, grassroots activists, filmmakers, roller derby players, peacemakers, politicians, mothers, slam poets, writers, business leaders, photographers, daughters, leaders, sports newscasters, producers, inventors, and more. check back often to learn more about these female powerhouses.**

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