Margaret Barbour Gilbert: On "August"

Nets to Catch the Wind. . .is Wylie’s first professional book and won the Julia Ellsworth Ford Prize for the best collection of poems published in 1921, the year Edna St. Vincent Millay published Second April, Marianne Moore Poems, and H.D. Hymen. It is the work of a writer with a more complex and developed imagination. . .

Nets to Catch the Wind contains many of Wylie’s best poems and the poems that made her famous: “Wild Peaches,” “August,” and “Velvet Shoes.” “August” (a single sonnet), like “Wild Peaches” (a sequence of four sonnets), dramatizes a distinct kind of sensibility. By showing the diversity of the poet/speaker’s reactions to contrasting kinds of stimuli, “August” depicts a nature that responds only to the most subdued and subtlest sensations. In the sonnet’s octave, the poet compares an African American with a barrow “tawnier than wheat” and filled with smoldering daisies to a great brazier borne along the street by captive leopards. The daisies become like leopards. In the sestet the poet longs for the coolness of water lilies.           

In contrast, “Wild Peaches” suggests a sensibility that craves austereness. “There is something,” says the lyric speaker in the fourth and climactic poem of the sequence, “in this richness that I hate.” Against the oppressive lushness of the rich Maryland tidewater country, the fourth sonnet sets a stark New England landscape. Nothing but starkness and simplicity satisfy a sensibility that is wearied by surfeit and satiety. Technical virtuosity of the kind displayed in “August” and “Wild Peaches” won Elinor Wylie a reputation for faultless technique.

Gilbert, Margaret Barbour. American Women Writers, 1900-1945: A Bio-Bibliographical Critical Sourcebook. Ed. Laurie Champion. Westport, CT: Greenwood Press, 2000. 372-4.

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Title Margaret Barbour Gilbert: On "August" Type of Content Criticism
Criticism Author Margaret Barbour Gilbert Criticism Target Elinor Wylie
Criticism Type Poet Originally Posted 12 Aug 2014
Publication Status Excerpted Criticism Publication No Data
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