Short Stories, Irish literature, Classics, Modern Fiction and Contemporary Literary Fiction, The Japanese Novel and post Colonial Asian Fiction, Yiddish Literature, The Legacy of the Austro-Hungarian Empire and quality historical novels are some of my Literary Interests

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

Savage Beauty The Life of Edna Saint Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford

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!

"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!"

1892 Born Rockland, Maine

1952, Died Austeritz, New York

1943 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry

Edna Saint Vincent Millay was the most read poet of her generation.

Recently I read a great work that may well become required reading for those into reading or writing literary biographies, This Long Pursuit Adventures of a Romantic Biographer by Richard Holmes, himself one of the true masters of the form.  In it he recommends a number of contemporary writers of literary biographies, among them Nancy Milford.  I did an Amazon check on her and acquired her biography of Edna Saint Vincent Millay.

Savage Beauty is a wonderful biography, doing the very difficult if not impossible task of showing how Millay's life experiences, her education, her relationships (she was openly bisexual) and reading and her own brilliance germinated together to produce her poetry.

Millay grew up in near poverty.  Her father left her mother and she struggled to make a living as a seamstress.  Wherever the family moved, the mother carried a trunk full of classic literature. By age ten Millay was reading Milton and Shakespeare.  She graduated from Vassar in 1917.

Her first poem was published in 1912, the very powerful "Renascence".  Her work was in demand from that point onwards.  Mitford lets us see the hardships she suffered.  Her like took an upswing when she married a man very devoted to her, accepting of her older same sex relationships.  He managed her business affairs and took care of all domestic duties freeing her to write.  In addition to her poetry, she wrote a number of plays, largely for income.

The end of her life was a period of great pain from cancer which she tried to fight by resorting to alcohol.  Of course this just made things all the worse.

I am very glad I read this book. It is made me feel I knew the poet.

I have also acquired her Collected Works and am slowly reading her magnificent poems.

Mel u


Mudpuddle said...

my mom introduced me to her poems and i've enjoyed them off and on for sixty years... a much under-rated and gifted artist... any recommendation by Holmes would get my attention: his work on Shelley blew me away...

Mel u said...

Mudpuddle. So great to,have such memories. Among the biographers endorsed by Richard Holmes are Michael Holyrode, Claire Thurman, Hilary Spurling, Nancy Milford, Judith Thurman and Stacy Schiff.

Suko said...

This sounds like a captivating biography.

Heather Fowler said...

Love her a lot! I have this book, too. She had a wonderful ear.