How Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Poetry Can Inspire Today’s Children To Write

Edna St. Vincent Millay is one of the most important American poets of the first half of the 20th century. Her poetry is filled with carefully measured rhymes and imaginative themes that can inspire children today to write creatively.

Millay published many books of poetry throughout her life and won a Pulitzer Prize in 1923. Her life was filled with exciting trips and good friends. At the same time, she dealt with serious health problems as an adult and her family had very little money when she was a child. Despite the lack of resources, her mother always encouraged her to write. Her poetry caught the attention of several supporters early in her life who helped her get published. One supporter even paid for her education at Vassar College.

Her poetry reveals her deep passion for life and her imaginative spirit. She wrote about her love of the ocean, romance, and the New England landscape of her childhood. She also wrote poems with magical elements as well as poems where she just lets her imagination about ordinary items run wild.

Some of her poems are accessible to children and are in the book Poetry for Young People – Edna St. Vincent Millay. In this volume, they include part of a longer poem called A Very Little Spinx:

Wonder Where This Horseshoe Went

Wonder where this horseshoe went. 
Up and down, up and down, 
Up and past the monument, 
Maybe into town. 

Wait a minute. “Horseshoe, 
How far have you been? ” 
Says it’s been to Salem 
And halfway to Lynn. 

Wonder who was in the team. 
Wonder what they saw. 
Wonder if they passed a bridge — 
Bridge with a draw. 

Says it went from one bridge 
Straight upon another. 
Says it took a little girl 
Driving with her mother.

I love this imaginative conversation with a horseshoe about its travels. Sharing this with children gives them permission to be imaginative and to write adventures that ordinary items around them might have taken.

Millay kept many journals throughout her life where she would work on her poems. In the Respect Program, all children get to decorate a journal. Each child then uses it create their own poetry and to help them process their own life experiences through writing. Here are some ideas to inspire the children in your life, with a little help from Millay’s poetry.

Activities for Parents and Teachers

In today’s world, a similar theme could be, “I wonder where these tires went.” Write a poem about where a set of tires could have gone. Use your imagination to create any scenario that interests you, just as Millay does with the horseshoe.

Millay was was born in 1892. Talk with children about the fact that many people at that time traveled by horse or a horse and cart. Visit a horse farm and learn about how and why they put horseshoes on horses. While there, give the children a chance to take a riding lesson. Ask the children to write about the experience when they get home.

Questions for Journaling or Discussion

What do you think riding in a horse-drawn carriage would be like?

Where is a place you would like to visit? Write about what you want to do there.

Is there a friend or family member you would like to travel with? What makes them a good travel companion?

Children decorate notebooks in the Respect
Program for writing poetry and journaling