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Today I'm here to bring you a long-promised post on one of my favorite poets of all time: Edna St. Vincent Millay. Her and Plath top my list of all-time favorite poets, and they share a lot of qualities, so if you like one, there's a good chance you will like the other. I discovered Millay in my sophomore year of college and have written many papers on her work since. Millay is a sassy and brilliant feminist poet who uses bite and humor in her works.
Millay was very popular during her lifetime; she was the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize in literature, (winning in 1923) and was known not only as a poet but as an activist as well.
Millay was born in 1892 and was only nineteen years old when she published one of her most well-known poems, "Renascence." Millay also wrote prose under the name Nancy Boyd, but was most known for her mastery of poetry, including her sonnets. Millay is a super interesting person, and someone I plan to do a lot of reading on in the future, but I'll just cover a few of her highlights here. Millay was openly bisexual. She was married to a man for twenty-six years, but both of them had multiple affairs during the marriage that the other was aware of. Her husband supported her writing career and took on a number of the domestic duties in their life. Millay lived a bohemian life in New York after college until her poem "Renascence" was entered into a contest in which it won fourth place. This caused quite the controversy, as Millay's poem was considered the best by all of the contestants that entered, and the second place winner even offered Millay his prize money. Millay became an activist in WWI and wrote poetry in support of the Allies. She was the second woman to receive the Frost Medal for her contributions to American poetry. She died at the age of fifty-eight as a result of a heart attack. For more about Millay, see the links I have included at the bottom of the post.
A Few of My Favorite Poems
click the poem title to read the poem
This is perhaps my favorite Millay poem, and one that I have written on in school. Millay is unapologetic when it comes to writing about romance and sex, which is very refreshing for a woman of her time. This poem is both witty and sassy and a perfect example of a sonnet. If you have ever attempted to write a sonnet, you know how difficult they are, and Millay does them perfectly, and often turns the love sonnet on its head, as she does with this one.
This poem is often read in literature classes and captures a bohemian spirit. My outlook on this poem really changed when I heard Millay read it out loud (listen here.) That's when the poem really grew on me and the rhythm was hard to get out of my head.
This was the first poem of Millay's that I fell in love with. This short poem is so whimsical; I highly recommend you read this one for yourself.
This is the poem mentioned above that put Millay on the map. This longer poem deals with complicated themes in the same vain as Whitman. The speaker has an enlightened moment and becomes one with everything.
Millay wrote a number of sonnets, and she is well-known for her mastery of the difficult form. Many of her sonnets are written from the female perspective and disrupt the typical romantic themes of a sonnet. Here are a few to check out:
Hope you enjoy your exploration of Millay's work as much as I have!
Links for Further Information