Episode 57

Edna St. Vincent Millay, She had forgotten how the August night


February 14th, 2023

23 mins 46 secs

Season 5

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About this Episode

She called herself Vincent, she smoked cigarettes, and she wore shimmery golden evening gowns when she read her poetry to sold-out crowds. Edna St. Vincent Millay was the emblem of the "New Woman" and one of the most important American poets of the twentieth century...but in years after her death, her literary reputation suffered, and only recently have critics and historians revisited and properly celebrated her work.

In this episode, we focus on a sonnet that showcases the ways in which Millay approached desire and eros in her poetry.

To learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay and her life and times, take a look Burning Candles: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, an informative documentary available on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=i9ItdEiBR-o&t=2901s

Here is the poem:

She had forgotten how the August night
Was level as a lake beneath the moon,
In which she swam a little, losing sight
Of shore; and how the boy, who was at noon
Simple enough, not different from the rest,
Wore now a pleasant mystery as he went,
Which seemed to her an honest enough test
Whether she loved him, and she was content.
So loud, so loud the million crickets’ choir. . .
So sweet the night, so long-drawn-out and late. . .
And if the man were not her spirit’s mate,
Why was her body sluggish with desire?
Stark on the open field the moonlight fell,
But the oak tree’s shadow was deep and black and
secret as a well.

We so admire the podcast Poem Talk. In this episode, Al Filreis, Elisa New, Jane Malcolm, and Sophia DuRose offer a close reading of two more poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay: https://www.poetryfoundation.org/podcasts/155947/biologically-speaking-a-discussion-of-love-is-not-all-and-i-shall-forget-you-presently-by-edna-st-vincent-millay

photo by Carl Van Vechten