Elinor Wylie 1885–1928
(Full name Elinor Morton Hoyt Wylie Benét) American poet, novelist, short story writer, and essayist.
In her lifetime, Wylie garnered notoriety for her unconventional private life and acclaim for her poems and novels. She was considered one of the most distinguished American poets of the 1920s. Though her literary career lasted only eight years, she was recognized as an extremely adept, accomplished author. Wylie's poetry is marked by a lively inventiveness, a subtle treatment of emotion, and a detached sensibility that Louis Untermeyer has described as "a passion frozen at its source."
Wylie was born in Somerville, New Jersey, the oldest child of parents well-known in society and public affairs. In 1905 she met and married Phillip Hichborn, with whom she had a son. After five years of a difficult marriage, Wylie left Hichborn and her son to live with a married lawyer, Horace Wylie. After being ostracized by their families and friends and mistreated in the press, the couple moved to England, where the poet published her first collection, Incidental Numbers (1912). They returned to the United States in 1916 after Hichborn committed suicide and Horace Wylie's wife agreed to a divorce; these events permitted the poet's second marriage in 1917. At the same time, friends such as John Dos Passos, John Peale Bishop, and Edmund Wilson convinced her to seriously pursue a writing career. In November, 1919, Wylie sent some poems to Poetry despite her fears that her work was not "modern enough." But Harriet Monroe, Poetry's editor, allayed Wylie's concerns, publishing four poems and asking for more. Wylie left her second husband and moved to New York in 1921. Nine years after Incidental Numbers, Wylie published Nets to Catch the Wind, a poetry collection which she considered her first significant book. It was followed in quick succession by three volumes of verse and four novels, several of which won high praise from America's most influential critics. One of these critics, William Rose Benét, became Wylie's third husband in 1923. In 1926, Wylie separated from Benét though they remained married, living together occasionally. During the last year of her life, she became romantically involved with Henry de Clifford Woodhouse, the husband of a friend. The relationship inspired the love sonnets in her last book. On the evening of December 16, 1928, during a visit with Benét, she completed the drafts for her last work, Angels and Earthly Creatures, and then suffered a fatal stroke.
Wylie anonymously published her first book of verse, Incidental Numbers (1912), a small collection composed between 1902 and 1911. Though she did not find these poems worthy of inclusion in her subsequent volumes, they contain some of the themes she would continue to explore—magic, love, entrapment and isolation—and reveal her indebtedness to the poets of the aesthetic movement. Wylie kept this collection secret, claiming in a 1919 letter to Harriet Monroe, "I have never published any thing—never tried to, until the last few weeks." Wylie was greatly influenced by the works of Percy Shelley, though this was not the only influence on her work. Some aspects of her verse, in particular her wit and subtlety of thought, were in the tradition of the seventeenth-century metaphysical poets, especially John Donne. In what most critics regard as her best works, Nets to Catch the Wind (1921) and Black Armour (1923), Wylie dramatically portrays the disparities between the individual's aspirations and the limited satisfactions offered by life. Though Trivial Breath (1928) and Angels and Earthly Creatures (1928) contain some of Wylie's most ambitious poems, including the sonnet sequence "One Person," they also suggest that the poet abandoned the themes and convictions of her earlier work in pursuit of the cult of the beautiful. There is a sense in these works that the gifted individual requires beauty, refinement, and variety, while the world offers commonness, coarseness, and vulgarity.
The peak of Wylie's literary reputation was reached early in her career. It has been suggested that part of the reason Wylie's contemporaries praised her work so effusively was because they were under the spell of her physical beauty and social charm. Her poems were considered intellectually brilliant, and she was compared to such masters as T. S. Eliot. Subsequent criticism has been scanty and less favorable. However, new works examining Wylie indicate a reawakening of critical appreciation for her, and the inclusion of her poetry in recently published anthologies confirms a continuing interest her works. Incidental Numbers, though often characterized as immature and undisciplined, has been well regarded by critics for its expression of Wylie's major themes and as a promise of its author's later development. The poems in Nets to Catch the Wind and Black Armour have been the subjects of several critical explications which have focused on their precise structural aspects and imagery. In these collections, particularly in such poems as "The Eagle and the Mole" and "Velvet Shoes," Wylie achieves what has been characterized as a genuine and consistent style altogether free from affectation. It has been asserted that these poems demonstrate her exceptional skill in handling the materials of her ornamental and illusory "crystal world." In her later verse, however, Wylie's perceptions have been assessed as less coherent, and her language redundant, highly conventional, even trite in content and idiom. Critics discussing Wylie's later works have tended to explore the relationship between Wylie's emotional life and her work.
* Incidental Numbers 1912
Nets to Catch the Wind 1921
Black Armour 1923
Angels and Earthly Creatures: A Sequence of Sonnets 1928
Trivial Breath 1928
† Collected Poems of Elinor Wylie 1932
† Last Poems of Elinor Wylie 1943
Other Major Works
Jennifer Lorn: A Sedate Extravaganza (novel) 1923
The Venetian Glass Nephew (novel) 1925
The Orphan Angel (novel) 1926; also published as Mortal Image 1927
Mr. Hodge and Mr. Hazard (novel) 1928
Collected Prose of Elinor Wylie (novels, short stories, and essays) 1933
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie's Poems," in The New York Post, January 28, 1922, p. 379.
[In the following excerpt from a review of Nets to Catch the Wind, Millay describes Wylie as a poet of abundant talent and excellent taste.]
The publication recently of Elinor Wylie's Nets to Catch the Wind is an event in the life of every poet and every lover of poetry. The book is an important one. It is important in itself, as containing some excellent and distinguished work; and it is important because it is the first book of its author, and thus marks the opening of yet another door by which beauty may enter to the world.
The material from which these poems is made is not the usual material. They are not about love, not about death, not about war, not about nature, not about God, not exclusively Elinor Wylie. They are not pourings forth. There is not a groan or a shout contained between the covers. They are carefully and skilfully executed works of art, done by a person to whom the creation of loveliness and not the expression of a personality through the medium of ink and paper is the major consideration.
One places this book, for some reason, alongside the poems of Ralph Hodgson. It contains no "Eve," no "Bull," no "Song of Honour." It is a small book of small poems, made, one would say, for the most part, out of moods and fancies, rather than out of emotions and...
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SOURCE: "The Owl and the Nightingale," in The Dial, Vol. 74, June, 1923, pp. 624-26.
[In the following review of Black Armour, Cowley praises Wylie 's ability to combine "intellect and emotion " and compares her poetry to that of T. S. Eliot.]
Fantasy is the quality of an agile mind working freely, as if in a vacuum. It consists in the unexpected combination of ideas and images so as to create a world apart from the world, governed by a more arbitrary logic. The poems of Elinor Wylie, at any rate the best of them, have fantasy. They share the quality with T. S. Eliot, and reading Black Armour for the first time one is reminded of him forcibly.
But of which Eliot … the question is legitimate; he is never quite the same; he changes his style to keep pace with the continued development of his ideas. An author who depends on the sole resources of his own temperament (take Sherwood Anderson for example) is perfectly consistent with his own temperament; he changes rarely. There is an opposite type, that of Apollinaire or Picasso: intellectual artists, perfectly conscious, who gather information wherever they can find it and imitate anybody except themselves. They move from one theory to another, emitting disciples like sparks as they pass through each stage: the disciples have separate relations to the master and are usually one another's enemies. Eliot is an artist, a master,...
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SOURCE: "Fiery Essences," in The Saturday Review of Literature, Vol. V, No. 13, October 20, 1928, p. 267.
[In the following excerpt, Branch offers a complimentary review of Trivial Breath, emphasizing Wylie's intellect and the vivacity of her poems.]
It is a very great pleasure indeed, to be able to record in this review a sincere admiration of Elinor Wylie's new book, Trivial Breath. Her music, practically unfailing, ranges from the gossamer delicacy of "Desolation is a Delicate Thing" to the hard athletic vigor of "The Innocents" and "Minotaur." With all her lightness, gaiety, and elegance of diction, her often worldly, and often-sophisticated accent, such as we find in a wholly delightful poem "Miranda's Supper," she is also capable of rugged energy and the abrupt vigorous intonation of an old Puritan hymn.
Her thought runs rather apart from the current mood of the day. She gives us, from her heart, sensitive and lovely and loving portrayals of the perceptions of a fine intellect. Elinor Wylie seems to be instinctively reserved in regard to revelations of emotions as such and we think there is something fine and proud in her unwillingness to be betrayed into an expression of "feelings" unless "feelings" are absolutely necessary. Whatever the subject may be, there is no doubt that these poems spring from high clear sources of intellect and emotion.
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie," in The Spyglass, Views and Reviews, 1924-1930, Vanderbilt University Press, 1963, pp. 115-17.
[In the following review, originally published in the "Critics Almanac" of The Spyglass, Davidson considers Angels and Earthly Creatures to be Wylie's best book of poetry and praises her use of traditional sonnet forms.]
The day before she died, it happened that Elinor Wylie was arranging for publication a book of poems. This book now appears under the title Angels and Earthly Creatures. Everywhere it reads as if she had the taste of death already on her tongue, so that one is moved to wonder whether Elinor Wylie did not, like Shelley, foresee her fate. However that may be, there is little doubt that Angels and Earthly Creatures is her best book of poetry. It is more or less free from the finical toyings with words for their own sakes that had seemed at times to threaten her poetic art with decadence. This book has a sincere force, a humanity (if still shot through with fantasy and a tentative mysticism), and an open fervor that her poetry did not always have in the past. I am forced to confess myself a false prophet, for I remember that I once remarked that Elinor Wylie, if she had lived to be a centenarian, would have made no material advance in poetry.
What transformed her art, we can only speculate. Some of the poems seem to be highly...
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SOURCE: "The Pattern of the Atmosphere," in Poetry: A Magazine of Verse, Vol. XI, No. V, August 1932, pp. 273-82.
[In the following excerpt from a review of The Collected Poems of Elinor Wylie, Zabel faults Wylie's work, assessing it as repetitive and ineffectively ornate.]
Mrs. Elinor Wylie was a poet of late development but of enviable successes. By the testimony of every acquaintance, the graces exhibited in her verse are corroborated in her actual life. An agile wit was the factor which propelled her from charm to charm in her choice of materials: from historic themes of the most ingenious fragility and inaccessibility, to familiar encounters rendered desirable by the humor and elegance of imagination she brought to them. Thus seventeenth-century Venice had no riches to strike envy in the heart of a pioneer farmer on the Chesapeake: for each of them she conjured an experience of equal splendor. There was a prodigality in her verbal invention which certainly stemmed from something deeper than museum catalogues or encyclopedias; if we are to praise phonetic dexterity in Byron and Browning, we must praise it in her. The pictorial and impressionistic efforts of the 'nineties wilt feebly in comparison with the brittle imagery of her designs. In the tradition of Émaux et Camées she is, on first acquaintance at least, an austere and distinguished disciple. Of that style in contemporary art...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie's Poetry," in The New Republic, Vol. LXXII, No. 927, Sept. 7, 1932, p. 107.
[In the following review of Collected Poems of Elinor Wylie, Tate acknowledges Wylie's technical skills but suggests that her poetry lacks distinguishing features that would establish her as a stylistically great poet.]
This collection [the Collected Poems (1932)] of the verse of Elinor Wylie contains her four volumes exactly as they first appeared and, in addition, forty-seven poems that were not printed in her books. Of these, twenty appear in print for the first time. The book is handsomely bound and beautifully printed, and the editing has been done with great propriety by the poet's husband, Mr. William Rose Benét. Mr. Benét's task was difficult; one is grateful for the restraint and simplicity of his brief memoir, and for the lack on his part of any attempt at criticism.
Although Mrs. Wylie died four years ago—in 1928—and the air of faction that inevitably surrounds a famous poet has lifted, it is still difficult to judge her work. She was both facile and versatile. Her first volume, the book of verse Nets to Catch the Wind, appeared in 1921, when she was thirty-four; in the seven years to 1928 she issued three more volumes of poems and four novels. All this work is uneven, and it is hard to select the best of it just because, from first to last, her...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie," in Poets & Their Art, Macmillan, 1932, pp. 106-13.
[Monroe was a famous poet and the editor of Poetry: A Magazine of Verse. In the following excerpt, she praises Wylie's poetic skills and ability to capture the essence of passion and spirit in her poems.]
Though Elinor Wylie died at forty-two, in a sense her work was complete, was finished. She had perfected her style and delivered her message. Death merely rounded the circle, gave her career a wholeness, a symmetry, as when a thorough-bred racer wins a trophy at the goal which was his starting-point a few minutes before.
Her first poems, like the racer's first paces, were of an instinctive yet trained precision; there was no fumbling or halting, never a stumble or a false step. To be sure, she began later than most poets, never discovering her literary gift until she was well past thirty and disciplined by a tragic experience of life. Still, waiting beyond youth for one's debut in any art does not imply adequate practice in technique—a late beginning tends to make the first steps slow and painful. Not so, however, in Elinor Wylie's case; the four poems printed in 1921 in Poetry, which she called her "first acceptor," showed her a master of her tools, capable of artistry which admitted no compromise. She never surpassed the muted music of "Velvet Shoes," and in "Fire and Sleet and...
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SOURCE: The Prose and Poetry of Elinor Wylie, Wheaton College Press, 1934, 24 p.
[In the following excerpt from the Annie Talbot Cole Lecture of Wheaton College, Benét describes his late wife as a "great poet," possessed of a natural talent and love of the English language.]
I contend that [Elinor Wylie] was a great prose writer because she was a great poet. What then is a poet such as she? Such poets have puzzled fine minds through the ages for definition of the quality of their work. For one thing, she was born to welcome the most intensely arduous mental labour in passionate exploration of the utmost resources of the English language in order to express every finest shade of thought and feeling that she experienced. She was abnormally sensitive to the powers latent in language. She had an altogether unusual intuition for the exact word, and had assimilated a large vocabulary. She was unusually erudite, and had her life led her in another direction, might have been a great scholar. And because of these gifts of hers she was greatly humble before the English language. You may recall the "Dedication" to her next but last book of poems that bears the gently ironical title, Trivial Breath. That dedication is a fervent tribute to the English language, one she read before the Phi Beta Kappa chapter of Columbia University, and one of the few occasional poems I know that has real poetic fire. It is a...
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SOURCE: "Women as Humans, as Lovers, as Artists," in A History of American Poetry: Our Singing Strength, Tudor Publishing Company, 1934, pp. 438-65.
[In the following excerpt from his book of historical criticism, Kreymborg discusses the pessimism in some of Wylie's poems.]
The despair and disillusionment setting in after the World War found its most tragic voice abroad in T. S. Eliot. On this side the Atlantic, it found a feminine counterpart in the marvelous brain of Elinor Wylie. Her work was not a direct reaction to the aftermath, but was raised on the private life of an aristocratic nature in no wise akin with the mob or democracy. Among the new aristocracy of intellects rearing ivory towers out of independent domiciles, Eliot was the prince, Elinor Wylie the princess. Each has had a long line of retainers and imitators. The despair of the woman was a positive thing; it was composed, not of self-pity, but of heroic acceptance. A proud person does not trouble himself with improving or reforming life. If he is an esthete, he evades humanity and fashions replicas of himself in beautiful stones, songs, poems. Fairly soon, the esthete turns to a consideration and adoration of death. He turns mystic and metaphysician, studies the dark, attempts communication with angels and demons, interprets all things in the light of the grave and beyond. Life and the world are imperfect; there is nothing to do but...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie and Léonie Adams: The Poetry of Feminine Sensibility," in A History of American Poetry, 1900-1940, Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1946, pp. 282-99.
[In the following excerpt from their critical collection, the authors compare Wylie's style to that of other female writers including Edith Wharton, suggesting that Wylie's final sonnets were influenced by Wharton's novel The House of Mirth.]
Elinor Wylie, who was born September 7, 1885, and died in New York December 16, 1928, was not a precocious poet, and her publications, like the brilliant, public events of her career, were timed with art; she appeared before her readers as the finished artist, correct and polished. Her second book, Nets to Catch the Wind, 1921, was published when Mrs. Wylie was in her thirties and its appearance quickly established her reputation. (In 1912 her first book of poems, Incidental Numbers, a private edition of sixty copies with the author's name withheld from the title page, was printed in London.) Unlike Edna St. Vincent Millay, Mrs. Wylie did not choose to conduct her education in public: refinement and fastidiousness were among the chief characteristics of the legend built around her name and among her chief literary influences were Lionel Johnson, Walter Savage Landor, and Thomas Love Peacock, all writers who combined the imaginative warmth of the Romantic Movement with the decorum, the...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie: 1825-1928," in More Modern American Poets, Basil Blackwell, 1954, pp. 35-40.
[In the following excerpt from his collection of critical essays, Southworth faults Wylie's poetry, suggesting that it lacks the necessary quality that would enable it to maintain the status of exceptional literature over time.]
Miss Elinor Wylie has been favoured with a good "press" and she has often been spoken of as one of America's great women poets…. [Although] I can admire some fifteen of her poems, I do not think Time will continue to do what her late husband and his and her friends with ready access to the public's ear were so able to do for her. The poems on which her reputation will rest are early as well as late, serious, humorous, and ironic, and are confined to no one subject. Taken in order from her Collected Poems, they are "Velvet Shoes," "Let No Charitable Hope," "Cold-Blooded Creatures," "Love Song," "The little beauty that I was allowed," "I have believed that I prefer to live," "Little Elegy," "Pretty Words," "Viennese Waltz," "Golden Bough," and "A Tear for Cressid." Not all of these are of the same quality and I think none of them ranks with the truly great lyrics in our heritage of English literature….
[Miss Wylie] has a tendency to over-emphasize her state…. Particularly is she apt to overstress her ability to make a synthesis out of refractory...
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SOURCE: "The Ghostly Member," in Poetry in Our Time, Columbia University Press, 1956, pp. 220-53.
[In the following excerpt from her collection of critical essays, Deutsch discusses Wylie's metaphysical style in comparison to traditional metaphysical poets.]
Working closely within the tradition, Mrs. Wylie had the craftsman's concern for phrasing, and for the particular qualities of words. Her poem, "Bronze Trumpets and Sea Water—On Turning Latin into English," is eloquent of this. She never indulged in the verbal sport of Edith Sitwell and Wallace Stevens, nor rose to their imaginative power. She cherished her nouns and adjectives as she did such ornaments of life as rich stuffs, fine china, tooled volumes, gardens, jewels. If her verse displays the conceits of seventeenth-century poetry and sometimes approaches its passionate intellectualism, it can also breathe the cool elegance of the eighteenth century, and is relatively free of a Shelleyan vagueness. Mrs. Wylie's devotion to that arch-romantic never fooled her into believing that he was her proper model. By the same token, though as homesick as Miss Sitwell for the dignities and beauties of an irrecoverable age, she rejected that poet's means of recapturing them.
One may gauge the distance between these two by examining such a piece as "Miranda's Supper," the account of a Virginian lady's recovery of the treasures she had buried...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie: The Puritan Marrow and the Silver Filigree," in Arizona Quarterly, Vol. 19, No. 4, Winter, 1963, pp. 343-57.
[In the following, Gray analyzes Wylie's ability to combine Imagistic techniques and Romantic themes.]
It should be obvious that quite as much banality, raw emotion, crudity of image, and bathos can be produced by Imagists as by anyone else. While often avoiding the vices of the color-mongers and jade-purveyors, [John Gould] Fletcher and [Amy] Lowell fall into equally nauseating practices. But this is not surprising where the poet's emphasis is on the purely physical, where he scrupulously divests his poetry of idea to present "things in their thinginess." In order to be fresh and original the Imagist poet must either search for new things—of which there will eventually be a limited number—or describe old things in a new way, both of which practices will lead him further and further toward the grotesque, the merely picturesque, or the banal.
Elinor Wylie avoids most of this in her best poems: the raw emotion of [Edna St. Vincent] Millay, the banality of Lowell, the bathos of Lowell and Millay, and the crudity of John Gould Fletcher. The precise control of emotion through carefully selected image and figure is the most admirable trait of her poetry. This careful control, however, does not diminish the impact of the emotion; it concentrates and distills...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie: The Glass Chimera and the Minotaur," in Twentieth Century Literature, Vol. 12, No. 1, April, 1966, pp. 15-26.
[In the following excerpt Wright groups Wylie's poems by their imagery and links the images to Wylie's personality.]
The poet-novelist Elinor Wylie (1885-1928) shows a marked preference for certain imagery: she loves figurines and other beautiful objects made from gems, porcelain, ivory, Venetian glass, and especially crystal, her symbol of purity. Her fondness for these treasures has affected—perhaps distorted—not only her literary reputation, but the world's image of her personality.
The essay "Jewelled Bindings" (1923) states her artistic credo in terms of this predilection. She likens most contemporary poets, including herself, to "careful lapidaries," all busy inlaying their work with moonstones and blue chalcedonies; they work "in metal and glass, in substances hard and brittle." For a minor poet, she reasons, this tendency is preferable to being "soft and opulently luscious." She and her confreres, cultivating "a small clean technique," contrive each poem like a musical snuff-box: two or three polished stanzas make "a small jewelled receptacle" for a gilded bird. "Our work," she adds, "is notoriously brittle, and I have no fear that its forms will ever imprison an authentic genius." If she dared suspect that her own bird was a live eagle or a...
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SOURCE: "1900-1945: A Rose Is a Rose with Thorns," in The Poetry Of American Women from 1632 to 1945, University of Texas Press, 1977, pp. 149-76.
[In the following excerpt from her book of feminist criticism, Watts compares Wylie to other female poets, including Edna St. Vincent Millay and Elizabeth Barrett Browning.]
Millay and Wylie were good friends, and their poetry is often considered together as "female Lyrist," apparently a new twentieth-century category of poetry which has been conceived especially for women poets such as Millay, Wylie, [Sara] Teasdale, [Lizette] Reese, and others…. Actually, the term Lyrist itself is a catchall and condescending critical term which is a development from the concept of "female poetry" of the nineteenth century. Moreover, the generalization which this term demands is wrong. Sara Teasdale is not Lizette Woodworth Reese is not Elinor Wylie is certainly not Edna St. Vincent Millay. Actually, of all these women, Wylie does most closely resemble the "Lyrist" poet as that term is defined: she did wish to produce small, neat, meticulous poems; she did use traditional meters; and her images are often not essential to the poem. With influence from Shelley, her style is poetically between those of Teasdale and Millay. Poems such as "Pity Me" and "Let No Charitable Hope" are reminiscent of Teasdale's poetry of withdrawal; "Where, O, Where?" and "Enchanter's...
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SOURCE: Elinor Wylie: A Life Apart, a Biography, Dial Press, 1979,376 p.
[Olson is a biographer whose work includes studies of John Singer Sargent. In the following excerpt from his biography of Wylie, Olson provides information about Wylie's life as it informs the themes of her major books of poetry.]
Unlike Lord Byron and Lytton Strachey, Elinor did not wake up one October morning in 1921 to find herself famous. The recognition she received for Nets to Catch the Wind was of a more somber variety, and very long in coming…. When critics opened [the book], they found a great deal to arrest them. The most captivating things were the certainty and the angular emotions of the poems. Phrases like Louis Untermeyer's "sparkle without burning," "frigid ecstasy," "passion frozen at its source," became critics and reader's leitmotifs in describing her work. She seemed capable of combining stunning craftsmanship with ethereal sentiments. She was a nimble, yet sure, technician of almost orgiastic images, which she destroyed as decisively as she built them up. Her ability to convey lushness through austerity was startling. All the confidence that was absent in her life was distilled on the page….
[Most of the poems that make up Black Armour] were published in periodicals beforehand. Like her headaches, [Elinor's] poetry offers an index to her feelings. While the letters reveal a...
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SOURCE: "Debut as Aesthete," in The Life and Art of Elinor Wylie, Louisiana State University Press, 1983, pp. 58-83.
[In the following excerpt from her full-length critical study of Wylie's poetry and prose, Farr analyzes poems from Incidental Numbers and Nets to Catch the Wind.]
Incidental Numbers, a small collection of verses composed between 1902 and 1911, was Elinor Wylie's first book of poems. Privately printed in England, in an edition of only about sixty copies, the book's pale blue binding and navy lettering imitated an edition of Blake's Songs of Innocence. Copies were presented as gifts to Elinor's family and acquaintances. Her mother paid the publication costs. When Incidental Numbers appeared, Elinor was twenty-seven years old and living out of wedlock with Horace Wylie in Burley, England. The scandal created by her elopement had cost her her social position in America; her former friends were "convinced that she was done for, socially, and … that she had not the courage to form herself into a writer or painter." The slender volume was testimony to the author's determination to discipline her energies despite the ambiguity and turmoil of her life.
The poetic style is experimental, and there is no single poem worthy of inclusion in Elinor Wylie's second volume, Nets to Catch the Wind. Nevertheless, there are continuities between...
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SOURCE: "Elinor Wylie," in American Poets, Louisiana State University Press, 1984, pp. 459-64.
[Waggoner is a scholar noted for his studies of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Ralph Waldo Emerson. In the following excerpt he discusses Emersonian aspects of Wylie's poetry.]
Expressing very similar attitudes, developing often the same themes, in a style derived, like Teasdale's, from the English Romantics, particularly from Shelley, Elinor Wylie created more poems that are still good to read. The several best of them, especially "Wild Peaches" and "Innocent Landscape," are very good. Wylie's spirit was tougher than [Sara] Teasdale's had been before Strange Victory, and her mind clearer.
But what we are likely to notice first, as we read through her collected poems, is the similarity of the two. Among poets less gifted than the major figures of the age, the number of possible reactions to "the modern temper" was severely limited. Thus Wylie, echoing Teasdale, writes often of the advantages of a cold mind and of the heart's strategies of survival with a minimum of sustenance. In her best-known poem, "Let No Charitable Hope," she writes, "I live by squeezing from a stone / The little nourishment I get." She is preoccupied always with erecting defenses against both "love's violence" and the knowledge of impending doom. Hearing continuously "the end of everything" approaching with a sound...
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Clark, Emily. "Elinor Wylie." In Innocence Abroad, pp. 167-86. New York, London: Alfred A. Knopf, 1931.
An account of Wylie's first trip to Virginia, during which she met James Branch Cabell, and of her frequent trips to England.
Colum, Mary M. "Elinor Wylie" and "Death of Elinor Wylie." In Life and the Dream, pp. 334-45, pp. 358-67. Garden City, NY: Doubleday & Company, 1947.
Personal descriptions of the friendly acquaintance between Colum and Wylie and recollections of their last meeting, which took place days before Wylie's death.
Hoyt, Nancy. Elinor Wylie: The Portrait of an Unknown Lady. New York: Bobbs-Merrill, 1935, 203 p.
Anecdotal biography by the poet's sister that describes concerns of fashion in as much detail as Wylie's literary accomplishments.
Untermeyer, Louis. "Bill and Nefertiti." In From Another World, pp. 229-53. New York: Harcourt, Brace and Company, 1939.
Personal recollection reconstructing the relationship between Wylie and William Rose Benét, discussing their first meeting, eventual friendship, and love.
Van Doren, Carl. "Elinor Wylie." In Carl Van Doren, pp. 66-90....
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