Edna St. Vincent Millay
Born on February 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine, Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up with the constant label of being “different,” which in her case, was a good thing. To match her strange individuality, her friends and family called her “Vincent.” Her mother, Cora Millay, was a singer and encouraged the arts. She recognized Edna’s exclusivity and took advantage of it. By the age of four she had already started learning the power of poetry. Millay’s parents separated when she was young and her dad left them no financial aid. After raising enough money, in her mid twenties Millay attended Bernard, and then Vassar colleges. In both schools she excelled though her spirit, confidence, and talent. Immediately after graduating, she began writing poems for important magazines such as Vanity Fair, who later hired her full time and got her career in progress. In 1923, Millay became the first female to be awarded a Pulitzer Prize for outstanding writing. She was the first woman to ever receive an award for poetry. Even during her time where women had a degraded reputation, not once did she bring to an end to her writing. Historical Perspective
Along with Millay’s creativity and simplicity came a commitment to use her fame and talent for causes beneficial to society. One cause she actively participated in was the Sacco and Vanzetti case. Nicola Sacco and Bartolomeo Vanzetti were both anarchists who illegally immigrated to America from Italy. They came to America in hopes of financial benefits. Sacco found a job at a shoe factory in Massachusetts, while Vanzetti was employed as a kitchen helper in New York. Once the two revolutionaries met, they instantly clicked. Sharing the same anarchist principles, one could predict no good would come of this friendship. Political rebels were arrested in May of 1920 for armed robbery at a shoe factory in South Braintree, Massachusetts, and murder of the factory’s guard and managers. The case became a lot more complex and time consuming than planned once the public got involved. Fellow anarchists stood by the defense of Sacco and Vanzetti until the end while others felt strongly towards them receiving the death penalty.
Millay was deeply involved in defending these two anarchists. She participated in all of the protests held in Boston against the execution of Sacco and Vanzetti. She used her social authority and originality in writing a letter to the governor of Boston asking him to “…exert the clemency which your high office affords” (Gray 39.) She helped to spread awareness among the public through speaking at interviews with the media and city council meetings with the locals. Despite Millay’s persevering efforts, Sacco and Vanzetti were ordered to be executed. Soon after, Millay composed a short Threnody dedicated to them, “Justice Denied in Massachusetts.” Regardless if the two were innocent or guilty, Millay’s efforts on their behalf show her commitment to social cause. She stood by what she believed in and fought courageously for it, and even though she lost, a beautiful poem flourished out of the experience. Literary Affiliations
Millay wrote most commonly about the beauty and magic in ordinary simplicities that most might notice, but never take into creative consideration. Another quality about her poetry that made it stand out was that she was a lyric poet. Lyric poetry is when the poem incorporates the author’s feelings through a usually highly musical verse. In ancient times, lyric poetry was accompanied with lyre. In modern days, lyric poems are not often sung. Millay could be a risky poet and experimented with lyric poetry a lot in her times. The different and positive flare she gives to her poetry is what makes it so attractive to her audience. Millay was never the generic idea of high-class. She grew up during a time of little woman’s rights. She is described as a “New woman” which is a successful woman during the 1880-1920’s. She was...
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Smith-Rosenberg, Carroll. "The New Woman." The Reader 's Companion to U.S. Women 's History. Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company, 1998. Academic OneFile. Web. 25 May 2011.
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