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This article is taken from PN Review 83, Volume 18 Number 3, January - February 1992.

The Occulting of Edna Millay Colin Falck

As THE CENTENARY - 1992 - of her birth approaches, thoughtful admirers of Edna St Vincent Millay's poetry are going to have to ask themselves how it can be that the poet who was once the most widely known living poet in human history should now be so resoundingly neglected in official literary circles only four decades after her death. How is it that her whole unusually varied output can be represented by the same predictable two or three poems in the 'serious' anthologies, or that her name is a name you will perhaps occasionally encounter in certain secondary school English classes but will also inescapably leave behind there along with many other childish things? Is it - they will perhaps ask - a fear of the directness and simplicity of Millay's poetry, and of the challenge it poses to us to experience life with something of the intensity with which earlier and less ironic generations experienced it, that nlainly lies behind her disappearance from view? Theories may be put forward, but if 1992 sees any discussion of Millay at all it will already mark a turn-around in her reputation, since as things currently stand she is almost wholly the captive of her least poetically-educated readers (for the most part self-confessedly ageing, sentimental and backward-looking) and is discussed by almost no one.

One of the most striking things about Millay's sensibility is that irony was always a deep need of her nature - and yet that she ...


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