Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Mine the Harvest

I cheated on this one -- but since I'm not eligible for prizes in my own contest, I don't think it matters much. I was unable to find a copy of this book, so I read it in collection. And actually, now that I've read it, I'm glad I didn't move heaven and earth to hunt it down on a technicality.

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of my very favorite poets -- her felicity with language communicates a depth of emotion many poets never approach even on their best days. But this set of poems is much less formal, more modern, and more disconnected than her earlier work. She has essentially abandoned the sonnet, which is my favorite form when done well. In its place she has substituted a number of other forms and near-forms, which do not highlight her strengths.

I suppose I miss the sharp contrast between the exquisite anguish of a difficult love and a sonnet's carefully formed meter and rhyme. Control and release, form and meaning, all tangled up together, make the best poems for me. Millay can create that blend like no one else. But the same emotion in free verse format can devolve into mere drama.

Certainly I respect Millay's desire to advance her art, to explore new territory, and to acknowledge the influence of the times. The results just aren't as successful, in my opinion, or -- perhaps more accurately -- I didn't like them as much.

Nevertheless, Millay is a genius poet and if you haven't read her yet, you should.

This is my last review for the Birth Year Reading Challenge "Time Machine" and that means, technically, I'm qualified for a prize for completing my list. Ha! Do I want to give myself a book from my own collection, as the rules would require? That seems kind of silly. But perhaps I could buy myself a new book and pretend that's my prize. Like I need an excuse . . . .

Excerpt:

Who hurt you so,
My dear?
Who, long ago
When you were very young,
Did, said, became, was . . . something that you did not know
Beauty could ever do, say, be, become?--
So that your brown eyes filled
With tears they never, not to this day, have shed . . .
Not because one more boy stood hurt by life,
No: because something deathless had dropped dead--
An ugly, an indecent thing to do--
So that you stood and stared, with open mouth in which the tongue
Froze slowly backward toward its root,
As if it would not speak again, too badly stung
By memories thick as wasps about a nest invaded
To know if or if not you suffered pain.

2 comments:

  1. I like Edna St. Vincent Millay slightly better when she's not doing sonnets. Aaaa, I don't like sonnets! I don't like sonnets! I want to like them but I don't. Even ESVM's ones. She has a lot of so gorgeous lines in her non-sonnet poems, though! "The most I ever did for you was to outlive you / But that is much" is one of my favorites.

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  2. To each her own on the sonnet thing, Jenny. I agree about Millay's lines -- her phrasing is like no one else's.

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