Friday, May 24, 2013

Introducing Edna St. Vincent Millay

A page of typed text with heavy, handwritten annotations.Introducing a speaker is always tricky. You want to be witty and urbane, but at the same time honor the seriousness of the moment. All of the attention must be deflected to the honored guest, but if you give a bad introduction, everyone will remember. It is trickier still if you are introducing a great poet known for her attentive use of language while you yourself are famous for your way with words.

Among our small collection of the Papers of Aldous Huxley, is a heavily annotated, undated, draft of an introduction that Huxley once gave for Edna St. Vincent Millay. The draft shows Huxley's struggles to get the tone just right--making small changes like substituting "impetuous current" for "onrush" and revamping entire sentences then rejecting them altogether. His final version captures the force of Milley's poetry and then summons her to the stage:
Like the Elizabethans, she seems constantly on the verge of being swept off her feet by the impetuous current of her own eloquence; but just as it seems inevitable that she should fall, the headlong movement is miraculously transformed before your eyes into a figure of the Dance, into some beautiful gesture, entirely unexpected and novel, and entirely satisfying.
A page of typed text with heavy, handwritten annotations.A page of typed text with heavy, handwritten annotations.

The same could be said for Huxley's introduction--a beautiful work in itself.  Come read it and see all of his changes by asking for MS 286, Box 1.