Wednesday, February 8, 2017

Edna St. Vincent Millay

After watching Mr. Searles’ presentation on Edna St. Vincent Millay, I developed a newfound appreciation for her poems that I had read a few days earlier. Millay was a forerunner on the women’s suffrage movement, but I do not even think she did so intentionally. She was a big voice; writing poetry about love and sexual desire, expressing interest in both men and women, and having an open relationship with her husband who was ten years her senior. She spoke her truth, despite the fact that at this time women were meant to remain quiet, religious housewives who tended to their husbands and children. She defied the social norm, and did so through the simple bravery of being herself. When I first read the poem “Feast,” I realized that it was about a person experiencing the forbidden fruit of desire, and how it was the strongest feeling she has experienced. When I realized that this poem was written by a woman in the early 1900’s, I was surprised at the bravery she must have had to write about something almost sacrilegious - alluding to the forbidden fruit of Adam and Eve and rather than condemning the indulgence of desire, she praises it.
I also was intrigued by the sonnet “What Lips My Lips Have Kissed.” The fact that this poem about a woman who does not even remember the amount of men she has been with was written in the late 1900’s is quite appalling. But I also found this poem to be the most beautiful of all the ones we read. I appreciated how Millay was open about her sexuality and sexual past, and how her past lovers remind her of a “summer” that sang within her. She may not have been able to remember all of her past lovers, but she was able to reflect on the love and happiness that these experiences brought her. Millay was openly a woman who was empowered by her sexuality, but she also was someone who indulged in love. In “The Penitent,” Millay expresses the power her sexuality brings her as a woman, and how she “put a ribbon on [her] hair/To please a passing lad” and decided that instead of repenting, she “might as well be glad!” Christians are taught to constantly repent their sins in order to get into heaven, and this is another example of Millay’s sacrilegious writing. She would rather please a man and gain confidence in his reaction from him than apologize for things she does not feel sorry for.
In society today, girls are born with something to be sorry for. Girls are told from a young age to cover themselves and hide their bodies in order to oppress their sexuality, and this causes women to be looked down upon by both men and each other. Girls who confidently express desire are often appalling to people, and make people uncomfortable. Sexuality is looked at today as something that women give and men take, and this continuously reiterates the objectification of women in society.  When a girl has sex for the first time, it is often said afterward that the boy “took her virginity,” and people hardly question it. But that statement alone pushes the idea that women's sexuality is something that is up for grabs by men, and that sex is one-sided, rather than an action of mutual desire between two people. A woman in modern day society that Millay reminded me of was Cheryl Strayed. Strayed wrote the autobiography Wild, in which she writes about walking the Pacific Crest Trail alone. Before her hike, she was depressed, wildly promiscuous, and openly wrote about having an abortion. Rather than apologizing for her sexual past, Strayed writes about how her promiscuity was a defense mechanism for her depression over losing her mother, and never once writes about having any regrets over her decision to have an abortion. This reminded me of Millay because Millay also wrote about growing and learning as a woman, and never apologizing for her sexual actions because she did them because she wanted to, and not because she felt like she had to. Millay was a woman who took the path never before traveled, and confidently embraced every aspect of herself.

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