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Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Millay magnew

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) in 1914. Photo by Arnold Genthe (1869-1942). Courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

Edna St. Vincent Millay
Born February 22, 1892
Rockland, Maine
Died October 19, 1950 (aged 58)
Austerlitz, New York
Pen name Nancy Boyd
Occupation poet
Citizenship United States American
Alma mater Vassar College
Notable award(s) St. Nicholas Gold Badge, Pulitzer Prize

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 - October 19, 1950) was an American lyrical poet and playwright, and a feminist.[1] She received the Pulitzer Prize for her poetry,[2] and was also well known for her activism and her many love affairs. The poet Richard Wilbur asserted: "She wrote some of the best sonnets of the century."[3]

Life Edit

YouthEdit

Millay was born in Rockland, Maine to Cora (Lounella), a nurse, and Henry Tollman Millay, a schoolteacher who would later become superintendent of schools. Her middle name derives from St. Vincent's Hospital Manhattan, where her uncle's life had been saved just before her birth. The family's house was "between the mountains and the sea where baskets of apples and drying herbs on the porch mingled their scents with those of the neighboring pine woods." [4] In 1904, Cora officially divorced Millay's father for financial irresponsibility, but they had already been separated for some years. Cora and her three daughters, Edna (who called herself "Vincent"), Norma, and Kathleen, moved from town to town, living in poverty. Cora traveled with a trunk full of classic literature, including Shakespeare and Milton, which she read to her children. The family settled in a small house on the property of Cora's aunt in Camden, Maine, where Millay would write the first of the poems that would bring her literary fame.

The three sisters were independent and spoke their minds, which did not always sit well with the authority figures in their lives. Millay's grade school principal, offended by her frank attitudes, refused to call her Vincent. Instead, he called her by any woman's name that started with a V.[5] At Camden High School, Millay began developing her literary talents, starting at the school's literary magazine,The Megunticook. At 14 she won the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry, and by 15 she had published her poetry in the popular children's magazine St. Nicholas, the Camden Herald, and the high-profile anthology Current Literature. While at school she had several relationships with women, including Edith Wynne Matthison, who would go on to become an actress in silent films.[6] Millay entered Vassar College at 21, later than usual, and had relationships with several fellow students during her time there.[5] In January, 1921, she went to Paris, where she met and befriended the sculptor Thelma Wood.[7]

Millay's celebrity began in 1912 when she entered her poem "Renascence" in a poetry contest in The Lyric Year. The poem was widely considered the best submission and when it was ultimately awarded fourth place, it created a scandal which brought Millay publicity. The first-place winner, Orrick Johns, was among those who felt that "Renascence" was the best poem, and stated that "the award was as much an embarrassment to me as a triumph." A second-prize winner offered Millay his $250 prize money.[8] In the immediate aftermath of the Lyric Year controversy, Caroline B. Dow heard Millay reciting her poetry and playing the piano at the Whitehall Inn in Camden, Maine, and was so impressed that she offered to pay for Millay's education at Vassar College.

CareerEdit

Millay moved to New York City after her graduation in 1917. She lived in a number of places in Greenwich Village, including a house owned by the Cherry Lane Theatre, renowned for being the smallest in New York City.[9] The critic Floyd Dell wrote that the red-haired and beautiful Millay was "a frivolous young woman, with a brand-new pair of dancing slippers and a mouth like a valentine." [4] Millay described her life in New York as "very, very poor and very, very merry." Openly bisexual at the time, she counted among her close friends the writers Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke, and Susan Glaspell, as well as Floyd Dell and the critic Edmund Wilson, both of whom proposed marriage to her and were refused.[6][10]

Her 1920 collection A Few Figs From Thistles drew controversy for its novel exploration of female sexuality and feminism.[11] In 1921 she wrote the anti-war play Aria da Capo.

In 1923 she married 43-year-old Eugen Jan Boissevain (1880-1949), the widower of the labor lawyer and war correspondent Inez Milholland, a political icon Millay had known while living in Greenwich Village. A self-proclaimed feminist, Boissevain supported her career and took primary care of domestic responsibilities. Both Millay and Boissevain had other lovers throughout their 26-year marriage. Millay's most significant such relationship during this time was with the poet George Hill Dillon, who was 14 years her junior, and for whom she wrote a number of her sonnets.

In 1924 Millay published a prose work, Distressing Dialogues, under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.

Steepletop main house, Austerlitz, NY

Main house at Steepletop, Austelitz, New York, where Millay spent the last years of her life. Photo by Daniel Case. Licensed under Creative Commons, courtesy Wikimedia Commons.

In 1925, Boissevain and Millay bought Steepletop near Austerlitz, New York, which had been a 635-acre (257 ha) blueberry farm.[12] The couple built a barn (from a Sears Roebuck kit), and then a writing cabin and a tennis court. Millay grew her own vegetables in a small garden.[12][13] The couple later bought Ragged Island in Casco Bay, Maine, as a summer retreat.[14]

Millay's reputation was damaged by the poetry she wrote about the Allied war effort during World War II. Merle Rubin noted: "She seems to have caught more flak from the literary critics for supporting democracy than Ezra Pound did for championing fascism." In the New York Times Millay mourned the Czechoslovak city of Lidice, the site of a Nazi massacre:

     The whole world holds in its arms today
     The murdered village of Lidice,
     Like the murdered body of a little child.

Boissevain died in 1949 of lung cancer, and Millay lived alone for the last year of her life.

Millay died at her home on October 19, 1950. She had fallen down stairs and was found approximately eight hours after her death. Her physician reported that she had had a heart attack following a coronary occlusion.[4][15][16] She was 58 years old.

She is buried in Steepletop Cemetery in Austerlitz.[17]

WritingEdit

My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends--
It gives a lovely light!

"First Fig" - from A Few Figs from Thistles (1920) [18]

Millay wrote five verse dramas early in her career, including Two Slatterns and a King and The Lamp and the Bell, a poem written for Vassar College about love between women.[6] She was commissioned by the Metropolitan Opera House to write a libretto for an opera composed by Deems Taylor. The result, The King's Henchman, drew on the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle's account of Eadgar, King of Wessex, and was described as the most effectively and artistically wrought American opera ever to reach the stage. Within three weeks her publishers had run through four editions of the book.[4]

Her pacifist verse drama Aria da Capo, a one-act play written for the Provincetown Players, is often anthologized. "Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare" (1922) is an homage to the Geometry of Euclid.[19] "Renascence"[20] and "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"[21] are often considered her finest poems. On her death, The New York Times described her as "an idol of the younger generation during the glorious early days of Greenwich Village [...] One of the greatest American poets of her time." [4] Thomas Hardy said that America had two great attractions: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay.

QuoteEdit

"The only people I really hate are servants. They are not really human beings at all."[22]

RecognitionEdit

Portrait of a Poetess

"Portrait of a Poetess (Edna St. Vincent Millay)" by Arthur Davison Ficke, circa 1922. Courtesy Yele University Library.

Millay won the Pulitzer Prize in Poetry in 1923.[23] She was only the third woman to win the poetry prize.[2]

In 1943 Millay was the sixth person, and the second woman, to be awarded the Frost Medal for her lifetime contribution to American poetry.

Steepletop legacyEdit

Millay's sister Norma and her husband, the painter Charles Ellis, moved to Steepletop after Millay's death. In 1973 they established Millay Colony for the Arts on the seven acres (2.8 ha) around the house and barn, which they ran until Norma's death in 1986.[12]

At 17, the poet Mary Oliver visited Steepletop and became a close friend of Norma. Oliver eventually lived there for seven years and helped to organise Millay's papers.[24] Mary Oliver herself went on to become a Pulitzer Prize-winning poet, greatly inspired by Millay's work.[25]

In 2006, the state of New York paid $1.69 million to acquire 230 acres (0.93 km2) of Steepletop, with the intention of adding the land to a nearby state forest preserve. The proceeds of the sale were to be used to restore the farmhouse and turn it into a museum. Parts of the grounds of Steepletop, including a Poet's Walk that leads to Millay's grave, are now open to the public.

PublicationsEdit

PoetryEdit

  • Renascence, and other poems (title poem first published under name "E. Vincent Millay" in The Lyric Year, 1912). New York: M. Kennerley, 1917; Freeport, NY: Books for Libraries Press, 1972.
  • A Few Figs From Thistles: Poems and four sonnets. F. Shay, 1920
  • enlarged 2nd edition, A Few Figs From Thistles: Poems and sonnets. F. Shay, 1921.
  • Second April. New York: M. Kennerley, 1921; New York: Harper, 1935
  • The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. F. Shay, 1922
    • reprinted as "The Harp-Weaver", in The Harp-Weaver, and other poems. New York: Harper, 1923.
  • Poems. London: M. Secker, 1923.
  • Distressing Dialogues (as "Nancy Boyd"; preface as Edna St. Vincent Millay). New York: Harper, 1924.
  • The Buck in the Snow, and other poems. New York: Harper, 1928.
  • Fatal Interview. New York: Harper, 1931.
  • Wine from These Grapes. New York: Harper, 1934.
  • Conversation at Midnight (narrative poem). New York: Harper, 1937.
  • Huntsman, What Quarry? New York: Harper, 1939.
  • There Are No Islands, Any More: Lines written in passion and in deep concern for England, France, and my own country. New York: Harper, 1940.
  • Make Bright the Arrows: 1940 notebook. New York: Harper, 1940.
  • The Murder of Lidice. New York: Harper, 1942.
  • Second April / The Buck in the Snow (introduction by William Rose Benet). New York: Harper, 1950.
  • Mine the Harvest (edited by Norma Millay). New York: Harper, 1954.
  • Take Up the Song. Harper, 1986
    • also published as Take Up the Song: Soprano Solo, Mixed Chorus, and Piano (with music by William Albright). Henmar Press, 1994.
  • Selected Poems: The Centenary edition (edited by Colin Falck). New York: Harper Perennial, 1992.

PlaysEdit

TranslatedEdit

  • Charles Baudelaire, Flowers of Evil (translated with George Dillon, & author of introduction). Harper, 1936.

LettersEdit

  • Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (edited by Allan Ross Macdougall). Harper, 1952.


Except where noted, bibliographical information courtesy the Poetry Foundation.[26]

Audio / video Edit

Edna St01:30

Edna St. Vincent Millay reads 'Love is not all'

  • Edna St. Vincent Millay: In readings from her poems (78). Camden, NJ: Victor, 1945.
  • Dorothy Stickney, A Lovely Light: A dramatization of the poems and letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay (LP). New York: Columbia, [194-?]; New York: Vanguard, 1966.
  • Edna St. Vincent Millay: Reading from her poetry (LP). New York: Caedmon, 1966.

Except where noted, discographical information courtesy WorldCat.[27]

Poems by Edna St. Vincent MillayEdit

  1. Only until this cigarette is ended

See alsoEdit

ReferencesEdit

  • Barnet, Andrea (2004). All-Night Party: The Women of Bohemian Greenwich Village and Harlem, 1913-1930. Chapel Hill, NC: Algonquin Books. ISBN 1-56512-381-6. 
  • Epstein, Daniel Mark (2001). What Lips my Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805067272. 
  • Milford, Nancy (2001). Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Random House. pp. 191-192. ISBN 0375760814. 
  • Millay, Edna St. Vincent (1991) Selected Poems. Harper Collins

NotesEdit

  1. Obituary Variety, October 25, 1950.
  2. 2.0 2.1 Pulitzer site Retrieved December 9, 2010
  3. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. Selected Poems. Harper Collins, 1991
  4. 4.0 4.1 4.2 4.3 4.4 New York Times Obituary October 20, 1950 "Edna St. V. Millay Found Dead At 58". Accessed 2010-09-13
  5. 5.0 5.1 Epstein, Daniel Mark (2001). What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Henry Holt. ISBN 0805067272. 
  6. 6.0 6.1 6.2 Millay biography from the Academy of American Poets
  7. Herring, Phillip (1995). Djuna: The Life and Work of Djuna Barnes. New York: Penguin Books. pp. 158. ISBN 0140178422. 
  8. Dash, Joan (1973). A Life of One's Own: Three Gifted Women and the Men They Married. New York: Harper and Row, Publishers. 
  9. Nevius, Michelle and James (2009). Inside the Apple: A Streetwise History of New York City. New York: Free Press. 
  10. Milford, Nancy (2001). Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. New York: Random House. pp. 191-192. ISBN 0375760814. 
  11. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. A few Figs from Thistles
  12. 12.0 12.1 12.2 "History". Millay Colony for the Arts. http://www.millaycolony.org/history. Retrieved January 23, 2010. 
  13. "The Grounds at Steepletop". Edna St. Vincent Millay Society. 2008. http://www.millaysociety.org/millaystpgrounds.htm. Retrieved January 23, 2010. 
  14. Milford, Nancy. (2001) Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay. Random House.
  15. Milford (2001) p508
  16. Epstein (2001) p273.
  17. "Edna St. Vincent Millay," FindAGrave.com, Web, June 30, 2011.
  18. Michael Browning (18 August 1996). "The Eternal Flame". The Miami Herald. http://www.tropicfan.com/The%20Eternal%20Flame%20by%20Michael%20Browning.htm. 
  19. Sinclair, N. et al., Mathematics and the Aesthetic (New York: Springer, 2006), p. 111.
  20. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. "Renascence"
  21. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"
  22. At Home, Bill Bryson, Chapter V, "The Scullery and the Larder" p.111
  23. Millay, Edna St. Vincent, "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver"
  24. "The Land and Words of Mary Oliver, the Bard of Provincetown" July 5, 2009 New York Times. Accessed 2010-09-07
  25. Poetry Foundation Oliver biography. Accessed 2010-09-07
  26. "Edna St. Vincent Millay: Bibliography," Poetry Foundation, Web, May 20, 2011.
  27. Search results = au:Edna St. Vincent Millay / audio], WorldCat, OCLC Online Computer Library Center Inc. Web, Feb. 15, 2015.

External linksEdit

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