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Collected Poems Paperback – March 8, 2011

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Editorial Reviews

From the Back Cover

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950), winner in 1923 of the second annual Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, was a daring, versatile writer whose work includes plays, essays, short stories, songs, and the libretto to an opera that premiered at New York's Metropolitan Opera House to rave reviews.

Millay infused new life into traditional poetic forms, bringing new hope to a generation of youth disillusioned by the political and social upheaval of the First World War. She ventured fearlessly beyond familiar poetic subjects to tackle political injustice, social discrimination, and women's sexuality in her poems and prose. In the 1920s and '30s, Millay was considered a spokesperson for personal freedom in America, particularly for women, and we turn to her lines to illuminate the social history of the period and the Bohemian lifestyle she and her friends enjoyed.

Yet Millay's poetry is still decisively modern in its message, and it continues to resonate with readers facing personal and moral issues that defy the test of time: romantic love, loss, betrayal, compassion for one another, social equality, patriotism, and the stewardship of the natural world.

Collected Poems features Millay's incisive and impassioned lyric poetry and sonnets, many of which are considered among the finest in the language, as well as the poet's last volume, Mine the Harvest, compiled and published in 1956 by her sister Norma Millay.

About the Author

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in 1892 in Rockland, Maine, the eldest of three daughters, and was encouraged by her mother to develop her talents for music and poetry. Her long poem "Renascence" won critical attention in an anthology contest in 1912 and secured for her a patron who enabled her to go to Vassar College.

After graduating in 1917 she lived in Greenwich Village in New York for a few years, acting, writing satirical pieces for journals (usually under a pseudonym), and continuing to work at her poetry. She traveled in Europe throughout 1921-22 as a "foreign correspondent" for Vanity Fair. Her collection A Few Figs from Thistles (1920) gained her a reputation for hedonistic wit and cynicism, but her other collections (including the earlier Renascence and Other Poems [1917]) are without exception more seriously passionate or reflective.

In 1923 she married Eugene Boissevain and -- after further travel -- embarked on a series of reading tours which helped to consolidate her nationwide renown. From 1925 onwards she lived at Steepletop, a farmstead in Austerlitz, New York, where her husband protected her from all responsibilities except her creative work. Often involved in feminist or political causes (including the Sacco-Vanzetti case of 1927), she turned to writing anti-fascist propaganda poetry in 1940 and further damaged a reputation already in decline. In her last years of her life she became more withdrawn and isolated, and her health, which had never been robust, became increasingly poor.

She died in 1950.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 816 pages
  • Publisher: Harper Perennial Modern Classics; Second Addition edition (March 8, 2011)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0062015273
  • ISBN-13: 978-0062015273
  • Product Dimensions: 5.4 x 1.3 x 8.4 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 2.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.6 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (35 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #80,369 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

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Millay has been criticized for her lack of technical rigor, but that is the very essence of her accessibility to readers. Yes, she wrote poems that rhymed, sometimes to the point of sing-song meter, but her words carried weight. They meant (and still mean) something, not like the esoteric, pseudo-intellectual hodge-podge that passes for modern poetry. It seems that today's poets wear their inaccessibility as a badge of honor - that only a select group of academic word-smiths can even understand what they have written seems to represent success for them. Not so with Edna. She touches your heart, sometimes even breaks it, with common words, feelings, emotions. You don't have to work for her meaning, it is plainly presented for all to read. But beware! Her poems may be easy to understand, but they are impossible to forget.
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There is so much to praise here, where do I start? How can I possibly communicate what these poems mean to me? "Renascence" alone takes my breath away - "The soul can split the sky in two, And let the face of God shine through." These words too, allow the divine to shine through. "Interim" is, perhaps, as beutiful a poem as I have ever read. The author brilliantly captures the essence of loss, that grief and confusion, the mind's inability to accept the notion of a life alone: "...part of your heart aches in my breast; part of my heart lies chilled in the damp earth with you. I have been torn in two, and suffer for the rest of me..." There are still so many other passages that leap off these pages. Her phrases are like literary gem stones: Sonnet XXVII: "I know I am but summer to your heart, And not the full four seasons of the year" - could it be said any more succinctly? This collection is a must for anyone who cares at all about poetry - American or otherwise.
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The Collected Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay brings together poems from her best known books, including Renascence, Second April, A Few Figs from Thistles, The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems (her Pulitzer Prize winning collection) and others. The collection is a treasure trove of Millay's best work, and it can be read and reread with relish and always with new insights being gleaned.

The startling and passionate depth of Millay's vision is of the parallel between the individual and the natural and sometimes not-so natural environment, as well as to the universe and all its complexities. It is also connected to the Divine realm. However, they are not individually exclusive; they are intermixed, for the Divine can be violent and awe inspiring. Yet, the natural world can be that way, too. The individual with his or her fierceness of independence and willfulness is caught in the bewildering and tumultuous vortex of life, death and limbo. The issues that brought that person to that particular state may vary in degrees, from the loss of a loved one in the poem "Interim" to defiance of life and the Divine in "Suicide" to a whole lot of others. The lyrical flow of the poems makes them almost come off as flowery and light. However, there is a heavy undercurrent of uncertainty, rage, resentment and violence that shine through the "prettiness" and the fluidity of the language. It can catch readers off guard, because when you reread them and understand what lies beneath the surface, a whole new comprehension develops that there was something far more agonizing and serious that was the catalyst for why the poems were originally written.

There is a lyrical beauty in all the poems, but there is also a savage tumultuousness, even a bleakness, to some extent.
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"Time does not bring relief; you all have lied/ Who told me time would ease me of my pain!"

Old and wise beyond her years, Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote the majority of her most beautiful and famous works at a startlingly young age. One of few moments of comedy in Millay's otherwise (too) serious, brief life, was that as a published and award-winning poet while still in her teens, Millay entered college literature courses, taught by older teachers there to `instruct' her, even though they, themselves, had in most cases never published a line of verse or captured a single award!

"I burn my candle at both ends/ It will not last the night...."

This famous and oft quoted line about living the hectic life was Millay's, but many have forgotten that. A half-century after her passing, she is largely unremembered, lost among a crowd of later, lesser writers, ignored by subsequent ages that placed scant value on poetry. Hers was a life often lived invisibly behind her words. Though the events of her personal life, with her promiscuity and radical ideals, at times gained notoriety beyond even her professional achievements, Millay the poet is the force this book celebrates. Even the biographical section in this anthology is terse and respectful, which I found befitting. Edna St.Vincent Millay's poems, from the startlingly powerful Renascence, to her sonnets (the best composed in the English language in centuries) to her final experimental output at the time of World War Two, everything Millay achieved succeeds in taking the consciousness of an attentive reader into a higher realm, where the mind and soul are meditatively fused as at few other times in the human lifetime, and the voyage is one of utter transcendence.
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