Wild Swans Essay - Critical Essays

Critical Overview

Critics have repeatedly commented on Millay’s multifaceted personality as it shaped her poetry. Reviewers regard her as a complex woman whose career blossomed in a unique time for American women. Paula L. Hart of Dictionary of Literary Biography, Volume 45: American Poets, 1880–1945, for example, observes that Millay should be “recognized for breaking through the boundaries of conventional subject matter for women writers, while showing the range and the depth of the feminine character.” Millay’s personal life was part of her mystique as a writer, and her readers and fellow writers were intrigued. Mary M. Colum in the New Republic comments on Millay’s role as a highprofile nonconformist:

Her reputation for unconventionality caused her to be discussed by people for whom her poetic expression was not of first interest. It also caused W. B. Yeats, who was not overly impressed by her poetry, and Thomas Hardy, who was, to be excitedly interested in her personality. When Edna Millay first began to be noticed, American women still could not smoke in restaurants or swim in such garb as the European maillot . . . [Millay] seemed to be the standard-bearer for the breakdown of futile conventions and of taboos.

Although critics do not always agree on Millay’s status among the great American poets, they agree that she was a poet of great vision and ability. Famed poet and critic John Crowe Ransom expresses his mixed reaction to Millay’s poetry in the Southern Review:

Miss Millay is an artist of considerable accomplishments. She is the best of the poets who are ‘popular’ and loved by Circles, Leagues, Lyceums, and Round Tables. . . . She can nearly always be cited for the...

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