A Woman’s Way

A woman named Alice Duer Miller was born 141 years ago today.  She was a woman’s suffrage activist and during her time, a very popular poet. Miller was also novelist, playwright, screenwriter, and (with Dorothy Parker) one of the two female members of the famous Algonquin Hotel Round Table, that “Vicious Circle” of writers, critics, actors, wags and gladflies who met for lunch each day at the Algonquin Hotel in the 1920s and ‘30s

ADMillerHer first novel, Come Out of the Kitchen, published in 1916, was a best-seller. Soon afterward, in addition to writing more novels, she became a regular contributor to the Saturday Evening Post, McClure’s, and Scribner’s magazines. Many of her stories were turned into movies such as Roberta (1935), a musical with Irene Dunne, Fred Astaire and Ginger Rogers, and Irene (1940), another RKO musical.

Her most famous work is The White Cliffs, a verse novel published in 1940 that also showed up on film, as The White Cliffs of Dover, again starring Irene Dunne, along with Van Johnson, Elizabeth Taylor and many others. The film transformed one of England’s most recognizable landmarks into a reassuring symbol of hope during the WW2 years.

Miller campaigned for women’s suffrage and her mightiest sword was the written word. She published a series of satirical poems in the New York Tribune that were later published as Are Women People? in 1915, five years before women were granted the right to vote with the passage of the Nineteenth Amendment to the U.S. Constitution.

It is probably as the suffragist poet that Alice Duer Miller is best remembered. Her Are Women People? poems were thought to be clever and brilliant during her day. I am not sure how they are viewed by contemporary readers, nor how her non-feminist poetry is critically appraised. I suspect most of it is considered undistinguished. I am a poor judge of poetry myself. I only know what I like, and I have always thought the best poems are the simplest ones, not simple in meaning but in language, for as Walt Whitman said, “Simplicity is the glory of expression.”

“The Way” is a term used quite frequently in Buddhism and here at The Endless Further. This is Alice Duer Miller’s short, simple and expressive take on The Way:

The Way

There is a magic pathway through the wood,
There is a current in the troubled stream,
A happy course to steer, if one but could,
A meaning to the dream.

And some in love and some in dogma find
The hint eternal as they kiss or pray;
Some through the crystal circle of the mind
Discern the way.

And some no hint, no pattern of the whole,
Nor star, nor path, nor channel can perceive –
Attempt no answer to the questing soul,
And yet believe

There is a magic pathway through the wood,
There is a current in the troubled stream,
A happy course to steer, if one but could,
A meaning to the dream.

Alice Duer Miller

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