14 Apr 2010


It was whilst reading my current book (PRIMAL FEAR by William Diehl) that I came across a short verse written by the poet Edna St. Vincent Millay.

On searching for more of her work, I discovered what an interesting woman she was and thought GREAT! A FreeVerse* AND an Inspirational Women Wednesday** post all in one.

First for one of her poems which I particularly liked.

Doubt no more that Oberon—
Never doubt that Pan
Lived, and played a reed, and ran
After nymphs in a dark forest
In the merry, credulous days,—
Lived, and led a fairy band
Over the indulgent land!
Ah, for in this dourest, sorest
Age man's eye has looked upon
Death to fauns and death to fays,
Still the dog-wood dares to raise—
Healthy tree, with trunk and root—
Ivory bowls that bear no fruit,
And the starlings and the jays—
Birds that cannot even sing—
Dare to come again in spring!

Edna was born in February 1892. An American poet and playwright, she was the first woman to win the PULITZER PRIZE FOR POETRY.

Brought up in a singe parent household (her parents divorced when she was 12 which I should have imagined was quite scandalous at that time) Edna and her sisters, owing to their mother's (Cora's) financial situation, moved from place to place, always travelling with a trunk of classical literature including the works of William Shakespeare, relying on the kindness of both family and friends.

Finally settling in Maine, Cora taught her daughters to be independent and to speak their minds which, as you can probably imagine, didn't always sit well with others.

In was during her high school years that Edna (preferring to be called Vincent) began really nurturing her literary talents, starting a school magazine and eventually having some of her poetry published - and all by the age of 15 - though it wasn't until five years later, aged 20, that her career really took off.

Quite the independent young woman, Edna had several relationships with both men and women (imagine the scandal this would have caused) before finally marrying in 1923. However even this caused quite a stir as Edna and her husband had what is referred to as an 'open marriage' both partners having sexual relationships with other people.

Career wise, Edna went from strength to strength. Winning the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for THE HARP-WEAVER and Other Poems though her reputation was damaged by the poetry she wrote in support of the allied war effort during the Second World War.

Also awarded the FROST MEDAL for her lifetime contribution to poetry in 1943 (only the second wowan to do so), Edna died 7 years later, in October 1950. Found dead at the bottom of the stairs, it was clear she fell to her death but the cause of the fall is unknown.

So what is it I find so inspirational about Edna St. Vincent Millay? Certainly not her private life. I find it inspiring that a woman living at this time who came from such an impoverished background was raised to be an individual, a person in her own right. The fact the her family obviously held books and knowledge in such high esteem also inspires me as does the fact that Edna went on to achieve such wonderful things as becoming the first woman to receive such a prize as the Pulitzer.

* FREEVERSE is a weekly meme hosted by CARA at Ooh ... Books! Whilst ** Inspirational Women Wednesday is hosted by AINE at The Evolving Spirit.

For more reading on Edna click HERE, OR to view her other poetry click HERE


Vivienne said...

She really should be an inspiration to us all, coming from such a poor background to end up winning a Pulitzer Prize. She shows us that anything is really achievable.

Tina said...

This is my favourite. I know that time does eventually bring relief, but at the moment, this resonates with me.

Time does not bring relief

Time does not bring relief; you all have lied
Who told me time would ease me of my pain!
I miss him in the weeping of the rain;
I want him at the shrinking of the tide;
The old snows melt from every mountain-side,
And last year's leaves are smoke in every lane;
But last year's bitter loving must remain
Heaped on my heart, and my old thoughts abide.
There are a hundred places where I fear
To go - so with his memory they brim.
And entering with relief some quiet place
Where never fell his foot or shone his face
I say, 'There is no memory of him here!'
And so stand stricken, so remembering him.

chitra said...

This post on Edna should motivate all of us.

Kelly said...

I love the poem you shared! I also like the one Tina shared in her comment.

I don't think I ever knew Edna St. Vincent Millay's history. Fascinating!! Thanks for sharing it with us!

Jennifer@ Mrs. Q: Book Addict said...

Great post. She's a great inspiration for women.

GMR said...

Nice share! Definitely a forerunner in the prize winning poetry world for females aspiring to reach those same lofty heights...(okay apparantly your post took hold of my commenting ability, so I shall take my leave)...thanks for sharing!

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed that poem, I am going to go look up the rest of her work.

You so have to love songs about Bannannas huh? LOL!

Jen said...

I like the the line about the birds that can't even sing. Makes them sound a little defiant.

Smileyfreak said...

Wow what an intersting woman,thanks for telling me about her! :)

Pam said...

She is an interesting woman. While I didn't know all about her background, I have shared her poetry with the kids over the years.

Cara Powers said...

I love Edna St. Vincent Millay. The only reason I haven't posted her work is that I don't have her work in any of my anthologies. Thanks.

Oddyoddyo13 said...

She sounded like quite the character! But there is no perfect person in the world-leader, poet, or otherwise.

Kissed by an Angel said...

What a very strong and inspiring lady!! She was ahead of her time!!! Her behaviour would certainly have been viewed as scandalous at the time!!! I love this post!!

quid said...

This is a great tribute post for Millay and I think you succeeded in getting a lot of your readers interested in finding out more about her and reading more of her work.

PS.. loved Primal Fear


Anonymous said...

Great post on one of my favorites! She was also a member of the famed Algonquin table in New York, hanging with the likes of the Marx Brothers and Dorothy Parker, another favorite of mine because of her snarky wit. They were all quite decadent and scandalous but very clever. Thanks for the blurb, muah.

Tracie said...

I used to read quite a bit of poetry back in the day. Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of my favorites. I didn't know that she was the first female to win the Pulitzer for Poetry.

J.T. Oldfield said...

I loved this! I used one of her poems for FreeVerse a while back, too.

Jenners said...

This wasn't really my type of poem ... but I enjoyed learning more about "Vincent."