Dover publications has a fantastic list of books that are anthologies of famous authors. I love this series because it allows us to get the various works of an author all in one, cost-friendly volume. This particular book of Edith Wharton’s writings contains short stories, poems, two novels and a work of non-fiction. Since it is poetry month I have decided to review and comment on the poems that are contained in the collection.
The first aspect of Edith Wharton’s poetry that I noticed are the vivid descriptions of natural phenomenon. Nine of her poems are included in this anthology. One of her most famous and recognizable, “An Autumn Sunset” is a commentary on the yearly cycle of nature but she also extends the metaphor and applies it to all life. As the sun sets on the outposts of the earth, she questions whether or not she, too, will be carried to some distance shore where all things, good and bad, in life are forgotten.
The second poem in the collection, entitled “Life” picks up on this idea of the soul being carried to another world that is reminiscent of the Underworld in Greek and Roman mythology. She seems to be standing on the banks of the river Lethe, the river of “forgetfulness, from which souls drink before they come back to life. Life if breathed back into her in the form of music and she is transported across a vibrant world of birds, insects, meadows and storms.
One of the poems that surprised me the most is the poem about marriage. Edith Wharton was trapped in what seemed like a loveless marriage with her husband Teddy Wharton. When she finally dissolved the marriage it was due to his philandering and extramarital activities. Yet, Edith Wharton did have high hopes and high praise for the institution of marriage in the poem included in this collection. “The Last Giustiniani” was written in 1889, three years after her marriage to Teddy, so perhaps she still was still happy in her own domestic situation. In the poem, a soon-to-be-ordained monk is summoned by the abbot to tell him that he is the last of the House of Giustiniani so he cannot take a vow of chastity, but instead must be married so that he can extend his family lineage. The former monk’s sense of freedom at this news is unbridled euphoria. He takes his new vows of marriage very seriously and is proud and blissful as he is standing at the altar with his bride. The poems ends on a lovely and hopeful note:
Without a prayer to keep our
I turned about and kissed
You where you stood,
And gathering all the
gladness of my life
Into a new-found word, I
Called you “wife!”
The Edith Wharton Dover reader is wonderful collection of her best works. I hope you enjoyed learning about some of her poetry. If you pick up this book you will also be treated to her well-known novels Ethan Frome and The Age of Innocence. There is a work of non-fiction she wrote about how to decorate a home which I found fascinating. Thanks to Dover Publications for bringing us another great collection of classics at a very affordable price.
About The Author:
After a failed engagement, Edith married a wealthy sportsman, Edward Wharton. Despite similar backgrounds and a shared taste for travel, the marriage was not a success. Many of Wharton’s novels chronicle unhappy marriages, in which the demands of love and vocation often conflict with the expectations of society. Wharton’s first major novel, The House of Mirth, published in 1905, enjoyed considerable literary success. Ethan Frome appeared six years later, solidifying Wharton’s reputation as an important novelist. Often in the company of her close friend, Henry James, Wharton mingled with some of the most famous writers and artists of the day, including F. Scott Fitzgerald, André Gide, Sinclair Lewis, Jean Cocteau, and Jack London.
In 1913 Edith divorced Edward. She lived mostly in France for the remainder of her life. When World War I broke out, she organized hostels for refugees, worked as a fund-raiser, and wrote for American publications from battlefield frontlines. She was awarded the French Legion of Honor for her courage and distinguished work.
The Age of Innocence, a novel about New York in the 1870s, earned Wharton the Pulitzer Prize for fiction in 1921 — the first time the award had been bestowed upon a woman. Wharton traveled throughout Europe to encourage young authors. She also continued to write, lying in her bed every morning, as she had always done, dropping each newly penned page on the floor to be collected and arranged when she was finished. Wharton suffered a stroke and died on August 11, 1937. She is buried in the American Cemetery in Versailles, France.