Thursday, April 28, 2016
Millay Arrives ... Again ...
In today's mail came this volume--Selected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay: An Annotated Edition (Yale UP, 2016), edited by Timothy F. Jackson, who teaches English at Rosemont College (near Philadelphia). Yet another sign that Millay (1892-1950)--once a very popular and respected poet, once a fallen poet (invisible, nearly, in our literary culture)--is completing her resurrection. Yale University Press, no less.
Millay grew up in a kind of Little Women household in Maine--Mom, two sisters, absent Dad. Born in Rockland, she soon settled with her family in lovely Camden (she was about 9), where a statue of her now stands outside the public library, near the town's very picturesque waterfront. (Pics from our 2007 visit.) She loved poetry, early on, but the family's finances seemed to make college impossible, but she'd published her poem "Renascence" (link), and a patron was so impressed that she paid Millay's bills for Vassar. (Who says poetry ain't worth nuttin'!)
Later, by the way, I learned that when she was a schoolgirl, my wife, Joyce, memorized that poem and recited it in various public venues.
Near Camden, we visited the site that Millay used for that poem, high on nearby Mount Battle. (Not a bad day we were there, eh?)
But despite Millay's great popularity in the 1930s, it waned--among academics, at least--when she wrote some, well, doggerel in support of America's military effort in WW II. Seems inconceivable in our current "support-the-troops" days. But so it was. She toppled from favor (not that she'd ever held a terribly high rank with academics), and by the time I was in high school, I knew her name, but I don't think we ever read any of her poems in an English class.
(BTW: The "St. Vincent" part of her name is in honor of a hospital that saved her uncle's life!)
Well, check that. I have a copy of Adventures in Reading (1958), the literature anthology we used in 9th grade at Hiram (Ohio) High School (that was 1958-59 for me), and I see that Millay is in the index. Two poems are included: "Winter Night" (link) and "The Fawn" (link). There are a couple of questions afterward ("How Well Did You Read"). Here's one of them re: "Fawn":
The poet's summing up of this experience is one of regret. Can you explain why this chance meeting left her with regretful feelings? Has anything similar ever happened to cause you to feel as she did?
But I'll stick to my story: I do not remember that we read these poems ... but we could have--I was not exactly a fan of poetry in 9th grade, despite my respect for Mrs. Browning, our excellent young teacher. (BTW: One of the two editors of Adventures of Reading was Evan Lodge, who taught in the English Department at Kent State; I took a graduate course from him in the early 1970s. He told me he'd made a lot of money on that book.)
I don't recall reading any Millay in college, either--though she does appear (22 poems!) in an American poetry anthology (The Mentor Book of Major American Poets, 1962), a book we used in one class taught by my favorite Hiram College professor, Dr. Abe C. Ravitz. (Again, we could have; I don't remember--and I was still not much of a fan of poetry at that time.) Years later, I would use this same collection in my final ten years of teaching (at Western Reserve Academy, 2001-2011).
One amusing thing about that: Although the book remained in print, it had not been revised. So ... in 2011 we could read this in the "Notes on the Poets" at the end: ROBERT FROST (1874-) ... He is the most widely read of contemporary poets today (525-26).
Frost, of course, had died in 1963, nearly 50 years earlier!
PS--The book is still in print! (Link to book on Amazon.com.)
To be continued ...