Form and Content

(Masterpieces of Women's Literature)

While other volumes of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poetry debated the struggle between life, love, and beauty versus loss, bitterness, and death, The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems was the first collection to focus on Millay’s acceptance of death’s inevitability. Love of life and adoration of beauty—two of Millay’s prominent themes—are still present in this work, but they are relegated to a position of lesser significance as she concedes to perhaps the greater force. Her concession, however, is tinged with an ever-present defiance as she attempts to turn the ugliness of loss into another form of beauty.

Infamous for her many love affairs during her time spent in Greenwich Village, Millay finally settled down, marrying Eugen Boissevain, the widower of feminist Inez Milholland, in 1923. The poems of this collection reflect the maturation and commitment that Millay demonstrated in her marriage and subsequent lifestyle that same year. They also echo the strains of wistfulness that she may have felt as she entered her third decade and subdued her wilder ways. Many of these poems provide a voice for all women, restricted from individual expression or exploration of their identities by outdated patriarchal conventions.

The collection is divided into three parts—thirty lyrical and free-verse poems, twenty-two sonnets, and a seventeen-sonnet sequence—all of which comment on Millay’s theories on beauty, love, or death. The Harp-Weaver, and Other Poems suggests a more mature poet coming to terms with disillusionment and grief. “Call me in all things what I was before,” she cautions in the sonnet “Say what you will,” but in these poems she will “tell you I am what I was and more.” The poems conclude with the image of the poet as a tree in autumn or a rose that “hugs the brown bough and sighs before it goes.”