In a previous post I wrote about wanting to read this book after not reading a poetry book for a long time. I also mentioned my own poem in which I mentioned this poet’s name, but due to memory loss surrounding that time I hadn’t remembered reading her writings or a specific connection to them.
I want to add, I made a decision to not look up online anything about the poet until after I completed the book since I know I had read her poems before and also that I had read a little about her life then even if I can’t remember now.
The Reading Experience
Collected Lyrics by Edna St. Vincent Millay is the kind of book I was eager to read, one poem after the next, and I felt I could absorb them without a need to slow way down to understand them. I was wanting to savor the book, so the next times I read it, I read at night before bed and with a cup of chamomile lavender tea. Other nights I read without any tea. And last night, I read more than the other nights because these poems are not complex in language or hard to appreciate. I was able to read a good amount of them without feeling overwhelmed or that they were too simple either.
One night I was too tired to read. Half asleep, I had the book in my hand and set it down next to my bed and phone to charge, as I lied there I thought, “Am I crazy that a book feels like nice company?” Not too crazy. 🙂
I read the book last night, only reading at night, but decided the end of it would be nice to finish in the morning. So I read the remaining poems and the last one this morning and closed the book with the bright sun rising through the clouds.
Reflections on Collected Lyrics
These poems are image-based evoking particular nature places with a few refreshing city poems sprinkled in. Along with the sense of a familiar place, she mentions foreign places to her like China, India, and Japan. They also contain references to mythological ideas and characters along with spiritual imagery.
While some other poems come forth while the poet himself or herself falls to the backdrop, these poems contain a very real voice rising up—they feel to me very much Edna. They are not loud statements or come from a distant perspective; they feel intimate.
Edna’s writing reveals darkness of death and its consideration in a graceful, strong, sometimes sweetly hopeful way, without arrogance or coldness. There are many meditations about death using familiar to me natural imagery including autumn leaves, flowers, birds, and the sea, along with romantic love poems with natural imagery and some physical details of those maybe Edna loved, love-hated, or loved no more. She mentions tea a lot which made me smile. Even though the copyright of the book is 1917, these poems are timeless and can apply to right now. They are in form but they never feel constricted. And although I have not read any of them aloud yet, the lines are short as if timed with the natural breath in and out.
My Little Predictions of Edna
For fun, I am going to share what I might’ve learned about Edna from reading her poems.
I believe she had moved between joy, and sometimes elation, sorrow and depression, and sometimes felt the same together.
I wanted to break my promise and look her up online when I saw a few poems toward the middle to end with Massachusetts in the title or Cape Cod. My guess is that she lived much of her life in the northeast, maybe New England. In some of the city poems I was thinking, New York City?
Some of the poems seem to be about a woman with dark hair who did not like the cold, and in these poems Edna’s tone is gentle, warm, and sorrowful— it seems the woman had died and/or they were estranged. I think she also loved someone from East Asia. A lot of the men she writes about are described in their graves, but there is a sort of humor from her in the poems. It seems she very much loved the sea and had to move away from this sea she loved.
Written in an authentic way, Edna’s personality seems to shine through her words, and even while presenting dark subjects she softens the blow with her humor, expression, and resolve.
I won’t say much more, just wanted to share this book recommendation and my experience reading it.
If you are curious, here is a link to the poem it seems I could’ve been replying to in my own poem, “The Sea Lair” in Moonflower. The mood of her poems are often calm; this one is more passionate.
After I post this, I will look up a little about Edna online and update any misinformation.
Update: There isn’t any misinformation I can see. She was born and lived her early life in Maine, went to Vassar College in Poughkeepsie, New York, moved to Greenwich Village, Manhattan (Yes, those probably were New York City poems), and died upstate Austerlitz, New York. As for her image, the one that came to mind was right. She was born February 22, 1892. (I was born February 19th.)