The Magazine That Taught Faulkner, Fitzgerald, And Millay How To Write

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As a poet, no St. Nicholas Leaguer was more prolific than Edna St. Vincent Millay. Between 1904 and 1910, the League published seven of her poems and listed her on the honor roll no fewer than a dozen times. The first poem that saw print in the St. Nicholas League was “Forest Trees,” published in the October 1906 issue. “The Land of Romance” not only won the gold badge in March 1907 but was reprinted in Current Literature, with the comment “The poem that follows seems to us phenomenal.… Its author (whether boy or girl, we do not know) is but fourteen years of age.” Miss Millay caused the editor’s doubt about her gender by signing the work “E. Vincent Millay.”

 

In the first two stanzas of the poem that so impressed the editors of St. Nicholas and Current Literature, the speaker asks two people she comes upon, “Show me the road to Romance!” The first person, a man, replies, “I trod it once with one whom I loved,—with one who is long since dead./ But now—I forget.” The second person, a woman hunched over a spinning wheel, tells the speaker, “Little care I for your fancies …get you to work instead.” It continues:

Then came one with steps so light that I had not heard their tread, “I know where the road to Romance is. I will show it you,” she said. She slipped her tiny hand in mine, and smiled up into my face, And lo! A ray of the setting sun shone full upon the place, The little brook danced adown the hill and the grass sprang up anew, And tiny flowers peeped forth as fresh as if newly washed with dew. A little breeze came frolicking by, cooling the heated air, And the road to Romance stretched on before, beckoning, bright and fair. And I knew that just beyond it, in the hush of the dying day, The mossy walls and ivied towers of the land of Romance lay. The breath of dying lilies haunted the twilight air, And the sob of a dreaming violin filled the silence everywhere.

 

Two years later, E. Vincent Millay showed the St. Nicholas League another side to her talent with “Young Mother Hubbard,” a sassy parody of the nursery rhyme.

Young Mother Hubbard sent her maid to the cupboard To get her French poodle some steak, But when she got there and the steak was too rare, It’s a wonder their hearts did not break. Mother Hubbard said, “Oh, he will perish, I know! He cannot eat that—the poor dear!” She tore her fair hair with a look of despair, On her slipper-toe splashed a big tear. “My precious! my pet—Suzette! Quick! Suzette! Run, run for the doctor, I pray! My heart feels so queer!” she cried, “Oh! oh dear!” And gracefully fainted away.”

Miss Millay’s final poem for the League, “Friends,” appeared in 1910 and earned her the cash prize of five dollars. The editors called this work “a little gem in the smoothness and perfection of its rhythm, in its deft use of contrast, and in its naturalness of expression from first to last.”

A pair of poets who also caught the attention of the League were brothers named Benét. In 1901 William Rose Benét won a silver badge for his poem “The Harvest”; eleven years later his thirteen-year-old brother, S. V. Benét, won his silver badge for “A Song of the Woods.” In February 1914, having unfurled his first and middle initials, Stephen Vincent Benêt won the gold badge for “Mystery.” Like the League contributions of Edna St. Vincent Millay, Benét’s work would be accomplished for any age.