Edna St.Vincent Millay
A great British writer, Thomas Hardy, once said, "America has two great attractions: the skyscrapers and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay."(Kort). Hardy was not wrong to say so. Edna St. Vincent Millay was one of the most talented poets of her time.
Many of her works represented life during her time period. Because she continuously fought for women's rights, social issues, and wrote about the war, she became a "literary celebrity" in America (Kort). Millay wrote many poems with courage as one her more dominant themes. Edna Millay uses strong speakers throughout her poems to address the courage of women, while being influenced by her encounters with courageous women in her poems"Lament", "The Courage That My Mother Had", and "Sonnets of an Ungrafted Tree".Edna Millay was born on February 22,1892 in Rockland,Maine (Kort). Her family did not do well financially, yet this had not hampered her ability to write poetry.
She started writing when she was five years old and at the age of fourteen her first poem was published (Kort,1). When she was a young girl, her father left the house, and she lived with her mother , who became her role model. Millay never cared for a love life and always wanted to show men she was as strong as them.
She was devoted to her work in which she fought for women's rights along with other social issues of her time period (Kort,1). During her time, there was racism as well as sexual discrimination. Women faced many problems as they tried to advocate for their rights and to be treated equally in this time period. In 1927, Millay was protesting against the death sentence of Sacco and Vanzetti, two men who had been sentenced because of prejudice feelings in the nation, when she was arrested.
With hard work and ambition like that, in 1923 she became the first woman to ever receive the Pulitzer Prize in poetry. She was described as a "defiant, passionate, fearless, talented genius."(Kort)"Lament" was one Millay's deep poems which talked about the courage one must posses to endure the loss of a loved one, yet it is also about how life must go on after someone close has passed away. In this poem, a woman talks about her husband who had passed away.
She is being strong by telling her children that they all must be brave and their life has to move on. In the poem the mother is already talking about how they could possibly use the fathers belongings since he has no use for them (Hart). By using specific articles belonging to the father, Millay reminds us of the emotional bond the family will always have. "From his old coats/ Ill make you little jackets;/ ...
There will be in his pockets/ Things he used to put there,/ Keys and pennies Covered with tobacco;" (Millay). Also, by describing his possessions, Millay shows to us that he has become a part of them forever and they will always remember him (Hart). Not only the family in her poem, but even in life people always remember others by treasuring their loved ones items. Further, by coming to terms with his death and moving on, the lonely mother is helping her kids do the same. "Life must go on,/ though good men die;/ Anne eat your breakfast;/Dan, take your medicine:/Life must go on:". Millay's theme of courage is very well represented in this poem.
Women are always the ones who are dealing with life's burdens and have to be strong for everyone.Millay's life reflected aspects similar the poem. There was never a father figure, since at the age of eight, her mother had kicked her father out. (Kort,1) This poem could relate to her life without a father and that life does move on. Further, it could talk about the courage she saw at home with her own mother who had to support her three daughters all on her own. (Kort,1) At the same time, this poem could be her own opinion about death. The repetition Millay uses by constantly saying "Life must go on", is effective in telling the reader that they must continue to live their lives. This could be Millay's view on life and that just because we all die one day does not mean we stop living.
Millay's works also have a strong speaker and in this particular poem the speaker has a very strong voice. This poor mother is being brave and the poem starts by abruptly saying "Listen, children: Your father is dead." She has hastily told her kids the tragic news, yet in a blatant tone, she is telling them that it is okay.The poem "The Courage That My Mother Had" just like the previous one, embodies the theme of women's courage. The poem is from a perspective of daughter whose mother recently passed away. The person in this poem does not realize the courage their mother had until she was not there (Kelly).The mother's courage helped her get through life, yet now since the mother no longer lives, the speaker is wondering what will happen her.
Her mother had left her many valuables, yet the only thing she treasures more than anything, is the courage the mother had. This is shown in the following lines:"The golden brooch my mother woreShe left behind for me to wear;I have no thing I treasure more:â€¦ That courage like a rock, which sheHas nor more need of, and I have."These lines show that the courage the mother had is needed more that ever by the speaker, to endure the fact the bravest person in her life has passed away. The golden brooch or any other item her mother passed to her is invaluable at this time.
Further, by using a metaphor to describe the mother's courage we understand that was a women who was strong like a rock.This poem can go hand in hand with Millay's life. Her mother was the only guide in her life. Her father was always drunk and gambling, who left her when she was young (Kort).
Millay's mother always encouraged Edna Millay and her siblings to be independent and ambitious (Kelly). The speaker in this poem does not necessarily have to be Millay, but could be any child talking about their mother. Children always take their parents for granted. However, it is not until they are gone they remember them the most, as well as cherish the qualities they had (Kelly). The poem shows how the speaker never realized her mother's bravery until she was not there (Kelly).
Many critics did not like Millay's "obviousness" in the poem, or the fact it was about a subject closely related to home (Kelly). They believed her work was simple, yet because of the simplicity and common subject, others believe"the piece has resulted...a place in the hearts of millions of readers, bringing together something familiar in the mix of courage, motherhood, and death."(Kelly) This is evidently so since many people can relate to the speaker of this poem.The last poem, "Sonnets of An Ungrafted Tree" is about a woman who is at the death bed of her husband for whom she has no affection. She had left the man, yet returned after hearing of his illness (Gilbert). The theme in this poem is similar to the other poems because it talks about the courage women need to have.
In this poem, the woman is being strong since she is present at her husband's funeral. However, she in not only being fearless because of his death, yet also because she has returned even though she has no feelings for him (Gilbert). During the time period in which Edna Millay lived, women were always told to be be loyal to their husbands and were always looked as inferior. Millay always fought for women's rights and equality, and this poem shows unfair life was for them back then (Kort). In this poem Millay is emphasizing the role women had at the time and how they had to be faithful (Fairley).
Critics claim that Millay has described "the women's earlier sense of suffocation within the marriage"(Fairley). The speaker of this poem, just like in the other poems, is a courageous woman. Although she does not love this man anymore, just like women were supposed to back then, she attends his funeral to pay her respects (Fairley).Millay starts the poem by simply stating, "I, being born a woman and distressed".
Critics claim this poem's speaker is "impersonal" and could symbolize all women (Dobbs). The speaker is a "disembodied voice" and apathetic toward the whole situation (Dobbs). "Sonnets from an Ungrafted Tree,"was one of Millay's poems which did not receive much positive critique, however, later critics claim that was so because it was from a women's point of view (Fairley) . Further, some critics say because this poem was from a women's perspective it helps get a better understanding of the time period (Fairley). At the same time, this poem signifies the freedom the woman now has. She no longer belongs to him, but is an independent women. The widow in the poem has just endured a terrible incident in her life, yet this woman celebrates her freedom, rather than mourning her loss (Gilbert). After all that bravery, she is no longer "grafted."In conclusion, Edna Millay was a very talented women.
Her poems on courage are very unique and had multiple sources that inspired her.The ideas of her poems on courage came from her life experiences, the time period she lived in and the people around her. Because of these encounters she is able to write poems with such strong and real speakers. We can see all these qualities in her poems, "Lament", "The Courage That My Mother Had", and "Sonnets of an Ungrafted Tree".
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