Saturday, April 22, 2023

Ballad of the Harp Weaver/A Few Figs From Thistles/Eight Sonnets from American Poetry: A Miscellany by Edna St. Vincent Millay

 As far as I can tell this is the only time they gave the Pulitzer to such a mix of works by one author. Sure there are multiple collected editions, but this one is strange. It won the prize in 1923. The single poem, Ballad of the Harp Weaver was published in 1922, and later became the title poem of a collections a couple years later. The collection A Few Figs From Thistles was published in 1920. And the 1922 anthology American Poetry: A Miscellany had eight of her sonnets included. It took a little digging just to identify what she actually won for. Looking at the list, I think this will be the only time that happens.

I've been mixed on Millay in the past. I read a selected poems collection a few years back and liked it well enough, but it wasn't entirely to my taste. Last year, though, I reread that collection concurrently with the excellent biography Savage Beauty. Getting the context for her life made me enjoy this pass more. Her first major poem, Renascence (and the title poem of her first collection) will probably never work for me, but in context I understood it better. And the selected was good overall. I find that I have to be in the right mood for her poems, as I tend to like poetry in a sublime or prophetic mode, and these are primarily love lyrics. They are very good, but I have to work to get into the right headspace for them.

Ballad of the Harp Weaver was actually my least favorite of the poems in this batch. It struck me as saccharine, though the ending did hit hard the first couple times I read it. But overall, the tone of it didn't work for me. Thankfully, I enjoyed the rest much more.

There are some shorter (4 lines or so) poems in A Few Figs From Thistles that I didn't really care for, but the others were generally very clever and well structured. I recognized a lot of them from the selected edition. Of the poems I hadn't read before, The Singing Woman From the Wood's Edge and some of the sonnets were the ones that I really liked from it.

Millay's reputation as one of the best sonneteers is well earned. The eight sonnets from the anthology were uniformly great. 

I have a Collected edition of Millay's poems, and I was wondering whether to read the whole thing or not, but the sonnets are collected separately. I think I will read through them, and then assess whether or not to read the others.

Highly Recommended

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