Thursday, April 28, 2011
the bitter poet
Several years ago, I came across a poem that had drawn me by its title,"April".By the time I was finished,I had tears streaming down my face.It ends this way:
...Not only underground are the brains of men
eaten by maggots
Life in itself
An empty cup,a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly,down this hill,
Comes like an idiot,babbling and strewing flowers."
This is a poem that stunned me with its bitterness.I laughed out loud at the cheek of it.I always wondered about this contrary artist and finally read of her in Nancy Milford's "Savage Beauty."This is,of course,about Edna St.Vincent Millay, a gifted, highly appreciated American poet.
What a grand girl she was,rising out of a poor,virtually parent less home in Maine,going to Vassar on scholarships.Older women took an interest in her,younger women and men threw themselves at her feet.She was thin,gamine like,with startling red hair and an elusiveness that was seductive.Her poetry helped to speak for the same generation that loved The Great Gatsby,F.Scott Fitzgerald and Zelda.
"The Blue Flag in the Bog" is one of my favorites.Her use of words just leaves me in awe of her gift.This small woman in a man's world took it by storm and lived by her own rules.She loved whoever she wanted for as long as she wanted.And when, twice, new life tried to come through her,she refused.A contemporary wrote:"Edna did exactly what she pleased,when she pleased and where she pleased.One must remember that about her..."
What Edna did was write poems and nothing got in the way of this satisfying,creative act.What she must have felt when she honed a poem into exactly what she wanted to say.I can see her cheeks flushed with contained joy.
As she aged, the poet's life kept turning as she willed, with drink,morphine,and attempts to rehab.Her work suffered as did her relationships.Milford wrote,"They(the drug journals of Edna and her husband)are among the most troubling and pitiful documents in American literary history."I think of Goethe's quote,"We are shaped by what we love ."Edna loved writing poetry.This is what sat on the throne of her life.
It is with great irony and sadness that I read that on October 19,1950,Edna died by falling down a "flight of uncarpeted stairs."Her neck was broken ,her gifts,gone.She was 58.