. . . it was less passion itself than her perspective on it that gives her poems their distinctive tone. . . The final couplet of one sonnet phrases the disparity perfectly.In a 2001 biography, What My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Daniel Mark Epstein claimed a unique position for Millay:
Pity me that the heart is slow to learnThe slow heart and the swift mind are the instruments of our undoing, and art does not side with either. Millay’s dramatization of desire’s knotted toils and of understanding’s cold comforts remains a remarkable achievement.
What the swift mind beholds at every turn.
[from “Pity me not because the light of day”]
[Edna St. Vincent Millay] was America’s foremost love poet, a poet of the erotic impulse and erotic condition whose finest lyrics invite comparison with the sonnets of Philip Sidney and Elizabeth Barrett Browning, and the amorous verses of Catullus and Horace. . . . Our major poets of the twentieth century —T. S. Eliot, Marianne Moore, Robert Frost, and Wallace Stevens—together did not produce three love poems comparable to Millay’s “Pity me not because the light of day,” “Love is not all; it is not meat nor drink” or “Not in a silver casket cool with pearls.”Question for Valentine’s Day: is Millay “America’s foremost love poet”? If not Millay, who is?
Also of interest:
- Listen to Edna St. Vincent Millay read “Recuerdo”
- Discover other online versions of Millay’s poems at the Academy of American Poets, the Poetry Foundation, and Modern American Poetry
- LibriVox offers readings of numerous poems by Millay (we especially like those by Kristin Hughes)