By Ashly Moore Sheldon • February 21, 2020
Here at ThriftBooks, we fully embrace our literary nerdiness. We adore beautifully crafted language. So, of course, we love poetry and we couldn't help but notice that this week marked the births of four of our favorite rhapsodists. (Two of them were born on this very day!) Not only do these wonderful writers create exquisite bits of literary art, they have lived some fascinating lives too! Read on to learn more about these four unique lyricists and get our recommended reads for each one.
February 18: Audre Lorde (1934)
February 22: Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892)
If you come as softly
As wind within the trees
You may hear what I hear
See what sorrow sees.
– Audre Lorde, excerpted from If You Come Softly
She was a feminist, a librarian, and a civil rights activist, but first and foremost, Lorde was a poet. As a child, she struggled with communication, despite having learned to read when she was only four years old. She described herself as thinking in poetry and was known to recite verses as a way of expressing how she was feeling. She began writing at twelve. As a teenager, Lorde published her first poem in Seventeen magazine, after it was rejected from her high school publication for being inappropriate. Over the course of her life, Lorde published many books of poetry, as well as essays and diaries. She died at age 58 after an extended battle with cancer.
And then the day came,
when the risk
to remain tight
in a bud
was more painful
than the risk
– Anaïs Nin, Risk
An unconventional poet, Nin was known as a diarist, essayist, and novelist. Beginning at age 11, she wrote journals prolifically, many of which were published in her lifetime. She also broke new ground as one of the first women writers of erotica, publishing several collections still regarded as some of the best of the genre. Born in France, Nin spent her early years in Spain and Cuba. As a young adult, she moved back to Paris, later settling in the U.S., where she established herself as an author. Her writing plumbs the depths of her own relationships and bohemian lifestyle. In addition to being married to two different men at the same time, Nin was known to have had numerous affairs, including one with the writer Henry Miller.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
– W. H. Auden, excerpted from Funeral Blues
Born in England, the Pulitzer Prize-winning Auden emigrated to the U.S. as a young man and became a citizen many years later. He was known for poetry covering a variety of topics, including love, religion, and politics. He achieved prominence with his first book of poetry at the age of 23. As a youth, he initially thought he would pursue a career as a mining engineer, but the love of words took over. In addition to poetry, he wrote a variety of other publications, including plays, essays, and reviews. Passionate about the work of Shakespeare, he considered his long form poem based on The Tempest to be one of his most important works. After his death at age 66, his poems became much more widely known than during his lifetime. Funeral Blues, excerpted above, was famously recited in the movie, Four Weddings and A Funeral.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
– Edna St. Vincent Millay, First Fig
Millay rose to fame at age 20 when she entered her poem "Renascence" in a contest. Though it was widely considered to be the best submission, she was awarded fourth place, igniting a scandal. Even the first place winner agreed that she should have won the top prize. Shortly after that, a wealthy arts patron offered to pay for her education at Vassar College. At college, Millay was known to have many close relationships with her fellow students, both men and women. After graduation, Millay moved to New York City, where she described her life as "very, very poor and very, very merry." Millay attracted many admirers amongst her circle of literary friends and was known to have turned down at least two proposals from fellow writers. To one such proposal, she responded: "Never ask a girl poet to marry you." In 1923, Millay was only the third woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
How's that for nerding out on poetry? Thanks for indulging our deep dive on these four fabulous, February-born bards. We love their lyrical stylings, but we've also enjoyed learning about their interesting backstories. Hopefully you've enjoyed it too!