April is national poetry month, and with the month of May sneaking up around the corner, I would be remiss to miss the chance to talk about a few of my favorite poems and poets.
Poetry has been a long-standing favorite form of writing for me. From learning funny limericks in my younger years and trying my hand at Haiku, poetry wound its way into my heart at an early age. My high school and college years brought me close to the works of some of the greatest poets of all time.
Shakespeare’s timeless sonnets, Edgar Allan Poe’s eerie and haunting poems “Annabel Lee” and “The Raven”, and John Milton’s masterpiece “Paradise Lost”, which was written upon his sudden blindness, are favorites of mine. Henry Wadsworth Longfellow’s “Paul Revere’s Ride”, as well as Robert Frost’s “The Road Not Taken” and “Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening” are classics that should be read by all.
However, the one poet who stands out to me above the rest is Edna St. Vincent Millay, America’s third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Named after St. Vincent’s Hospital where her uncle’s life was saved just before she was born in 1892, Vincent, as she was called, lived a life in carefree poverty, spoke her mind, and was raised by her single mother to be fiercely independent as well as an activist for women’s rights.
At the age of nineteen, Millay wrote what I consider to be the best poem of the twentieth century, a 200-plus line lyric poem titled “Renascence”. Written in the first person, this piece broadly encompasses the relationship of an individual to humanity and nature. Millay expresses through this work the feeling of empathy and taking on the pain and suffering of the world, to be ‘reborn’ with a new understanding and appreciation for life. Also known for her sonnets and short poems, Millay was a favorite of Jacqueline Kennedy whose daughter Caroline read “Memory of Cape Cod” at the former first lady’s funeral.
Millay died in 1950 at the age of 58. Her works of poetry are printed in several volumes, and the biography “Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay”, by Nancy Milford is a great read for anyone who wants to learn more about the fascinating life of this great American poet.