Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892 - 1950)

Edna St. Vincent Millay, born in 1892 in Maine, grew to become one of the premier twentieth-century lyric poets. She was also an accomplished playwright and speaker who often toured giving readings of her poetry. All of that was in her public life, but her private life was equally interesting. An unconventional childhood led into an unconventional adulthood. She was an acknowledged bisexual who carried on many affairs with women, an affection for which is sometimes evident in her poems and plays. She did marry, but even that part of her life was somewhat unusual, with the marriage being quite open, and extramarital affairs, though not documented, are quite probable.

At the young age of seven, Edna’s mother asked her husband to leave the family home. After that point he held a negligible role in the girl’s life. Edna and her two sisters moved, with their mother, to Newburyport, Massachusetts where, to Edna’s delight, she was given piano lessons. Edna (who insisted on being called Vincent and who even entered writing contests under that name) and her sisters were encouraged in their literary and musical leanings by their mother. Then, in highschool, Millay’s interests expanded to include theater. She performed in numerous plays and wrote a
Halloween play for her classmates to act out.

Millay enjoyed her free-spirited childhood and adolescence and the creativity that it inspired. At the age of twenty, she entered her poem “Renascence” into a poetry contest for the The Lyric Year, a contest from which 100 poems were to be chosen to be published. It was, at first, overlooked as being too simplistic, however, one of the judges took a second look at it and the poem, now one of her most well known, ended up winning fourth place. It was that poem which really started her on her literary career, beginning with a scholarship to the then all female college of Vassar.

Millay kept up her writing, both poetic and dramatic while at Vassar. It was during this time that she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize for her book The Harp-Weaver and other Poems. Also during her college career she broadened her sexual horizons to include relationships with women. The most notable of these affairs was one with the English actress Wynne Matthison. Matthison was not the only woman she was involved with, though, and she kept in contact with some of them throughout her life.

Millay’s first book of poetry, Renascence and Other Poems was published in 1917 and well received. Then A Few Figs from Thistles was published in 1922 and sparked some attention as well as controversy with its feminist leanings. In particular the poems within maintained that the sexual freedom formerly commandeered by men was equally valid for women. This feeling is particularly obvious in the sonnet beginning “What lips my lips have kissed,”.

Keep in mind that all of this was accomplished during Millay’s college years! After graduation the woman moved to Greenwich Village in New York, a particularly free-thinking and artistic borough. She kept up her writing as well as her involvements with women, but also began to take men as lovers though it would seem that none of them were able to “sway” her from her natural lesbian leanings. The following paragraph is quoted from another web page dedicated to Edna St. Vincent Millay, which is located at Sappho.com.

In Great Companions, Max Eastman relates an interesting story about Millay that, if true, reveals something of her attitude about own sexuality. According to Eastman, while at a cocktail party Millay discussed her recurrent headaches
with a psychologist. He asked her, “I wonder if it has ever occurred to you that you might perhaps, although you are hardly conscious of it, have an occasional impulse toward a person of your own sex?” She responded, “Oh, you mean I’m homosexual! Of course I am, and heterosexual, too, but what’s that got to do with my headache?”

Millay did eventually marry Eugen Boissevain, who managed her career and was a great source of support. The marriage, as mentioned above, was agreed to be open and Millay herself said that they maintained their personal freedom, living more as great friends than as husband and wife. Millay, a smoker in an age of smokers, succumbed to her failure in 1950 at her home, Steepletop, in Austerlitz New York. Boissevain, who was considerably older, had died the previous year.

Poems By Edna St. Vincent Millay

Miscellaneous

A Visit To The Asylum (3 Comments »)
Alms (1 Comment »)
An Ancient Gesture (26 Comments »)
And do you think that love itself (3 Comments »)
Apostrophe To Man (1 Comment »)
Assault (2 Comments »)
Autumn Daybreak (No Comments »)
Being Young And Green (2 Comments »)
Bluebeard (1 Comment »)
Burial (No Comments »)
Chorus (1 Comment »)
City Trees (No Comments »)
Conscientious Objector (5 Comments »)
Departure (1 Comment »)
Dirge (No Comments »)
Dirge Without Music (8 Comments »)
Doubt No More That Oberon (No Comments »)
Ebb (No Comments »)
Eel-Grass (2 Comments »)
Elegy (2 Comments »)
Elegy Before Death (3 Comments »)
Epitaph (No Comments »)
Exiled (3 Comments »)
Feast (3 Comments »)
Fontaine, Je Ne Boirai Pas De Ton Eau! (No Comments »)
Here Is A Wound That Never Will Heal, I Know (1 Comment »)
I Dreamed I Moved Among The Elysian Fields (1 Comment »)
I Know I Am But Summer To Your Heart (2 Comments »)
I Know The Face Of Falsehood And Her Tongue (No Comments »)
If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way (1 Comment »)
If Still Your Orchards Bear (No Comments »)
Inland (No Comments »)
Intention To Escape From Him (No Comments »)
Invocation To The Muses (No Comments »)
Journey (No Comments »)
Justice Denied In Massachusetts (1 Comment »)
Lament (12 Comments »)
Lines Written In Recapitulation (No Comments »)
Love Is Not All (17 Comments »)
Low-Tide (No Comments »)
Make Bright The Arrows (1 Comment »)
Mariposa (2 Comments »)
Memorial To D.C. (No Comments »)
Menses (1 Comment »)
Mist In The Valley (1 Comment »)
Modern Declaration (2 Comments »)
My Most Distinguished Guest And Learned Friend (No Comments »)
Night Is My Sister, And How Deep In Love (No Comments »)
Not Even My Pride Shall Suffer Much (No Comments »)
Not In A Silver Casket Cool With Pearls (3 Comments »)
Ode To Silence (No Comments »)
Oh, Oh, You Will Be Sorry (2 Comments »)
Passer Mortuus Est (No Comments »)
Pastoral (No Comments »)
Pity Me Not Because The Light Of Day (6 Comments »)
Portrait By A Neighbour (No Comments »)
Prayer To Persephone (5 Comments »)
Renascence (12 Comments »)
Rosemary (1 Comment »)
Scrub (1 Comment »)
Song Of A Second April (No Comments »)
Sonnet (Women Have Loved Before As I Love Now) (No Comments »)
Sonnets 01: We Talk Of Taxes, And I Call You Friend (No Comments »)
Sonnets 02: Into The Golden Vessel Of Great Song (No Comments »)
Sonnets 03: Not With Libations, But With Shouts And Laughter (1 Comment »)
Sonnets 04: Only Until This Cigarette Is Ended (2 Comments »)
Sonnets 05: Once More Into My Arid Days Like Dew (No Comments »)
Sonnets 06: No Rose That In A Garden Ever Grew (No Comments »)
Sonnets 07: When I Too Long Have Looked Upon Your Face (No Comments »)
Sonnets 08: And You As Well Must Die, Beloved Dust (2 Comments »)
Sonnets 09: Let You Not Say Of Me When I Am Old (No Comments »)
Sonnets 10: Oh, My Beloved, Have You Thought Of This (No Comments »)
Sonnets 11: As To Some Lovely Temple, Tenantless (No Comments »)
Sonnets 12: Cherish You Then The Hope I Shall Forget (No Comments »)
Sonnets From An Ungrafted Tree (4 Comments »)
Souvenir (1 Comment »)
Spring (3 Comments »)
Sweet Love, Sweet Thorn, When Lightly To My Heart (3 Comments »)
The Ballad Of The Harp-Weaver (20 Comments »)
The Bean-Stalk (No Comments »)
The Betrothal (No Comments »)
The Blue-Flag In The Bog (1 Comment »)
The Concert (No Comments »)
The Curse (No Comments »)
The Death Of Autumn (No Comments »)
The Fawn (1 Comment »)
The Fledgling (No Comments »)
The Goose-Girl (2 Comments »)
The Leaf And The Tree (No Comments »)
The Little Hill (No Comments »)
The Plaid Dress (1 Comment »)
The Poet And His Book (1 Comment »)
The Snow Storm (No Comments »)
The Spring And The Fall (8 Comments »)
The Suicide (6 Comments »)
The True Encounter (1 Comment »)
The Wood Road (No Comments »)
Think Not, Not For A Moment Let Your Mind (No Comments »)
To A Poet That Died Young (No Comments »)
To Those Without Pity (No Comments »)
Travel (7 Comments »)
Two Sonnets In Memory (No Comments »)
Underground System (No Comments »)
Weeds (1 Comment »)
What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, And Where, And Why (Sonnet XLIII) (27 Comments »)
When We Are Old And These Rejoicing Veins (1 Comment »)
Whereas At Morning In A Jeweled Crown (No Comments »)
Wild Swans (No Comments »)
Witch-Wife (3 Comments »)
Wraith (1 Comment »)

A Few Figs From Thistles

1. First Fig (15 Comments »)
2. Second Fig (1 Comment »)
3. Recuerdo (14 Comments »)
4. Thursday (2 Comments »)
5. To the Not Impossible Him (1 Comment »)
6. MacDougal Street (No Comments »)
7. The Singing-Woman from the Wood’s Edge (No Comments »)
8. She is Overheard Singing (No Comments »)
9. The Prisoner (No Comments »)
10. The Unexplorer (No Comments »)
11. Grown Up (No Comments »)
12. The Penitent (No Comments »)
13. Daphne (No Comments »)
14. Portrait By a Neighbor (No Comments »)
15. Midnight Oil (2 Comments »)
16. The Merry Maid (No Comments »)
17. To Kathleen (No Comments »)
18. To S. M. (1 Comment »)
19. The Philosopher (1 Comment »)

Four Sonnets

1. Love, Though for This (No Comments »)
2. I Think I Should Have Loved You (1 Comment »)
3. Oh, Think Not I Am Faithful (No Comments »)
4. I Shall Forget You Presently (No Comments »)

Collected Poems, Harper & Row

Well, I Have Lost You (10 Comments »)

Renascence and Other Poems

Afternoon On A Hill (6 Comments »)
Ashes Of Life (3 Comments »)
Blight (No Comments »)
God’s World (3 Comments »)
Indifference (No Comments »)
Interim (No Comments »)
Kin To Sorrow (No Comments »)
Sorrow (3 Comments »)
Tavern (No Comments »)
The Dream (2 Comments »)
The Little Ghost (2 Comments »)
The Shroud (No Comments »)
Three Songs Of Shattering (No Comments »)
When The Year Grows Old (No Comments »)

Sonnets

1. Sonnet 01: Thou Art Not Lovelier Than Lilacs, —No (2 Comments »)
2. Sonnet 02: Time Does Not Bring Relief; You All Have Lied (6 Comments »)
3. Sonnet 03: Mindful Of You The Sodden Earth In Spring (No Comments »)
4. Sonnet 04: Not In This Chamber Only At My Birth (No Comments »)
5. Sonnet 05: If I Should Learn, In Some Quite Casual Way (No Comments »)
6. Sonnet 06: Bluebeard (2 Comments »)

The Harp-Weaver

The Return From Town (2 Comments »)
Analysis, meaning and summary of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem The Return From Town

2 Comments

  1. Gunnar says:

    Thanks for noticing, Joel. I have corrected the typo.

  2. Joel Van Valin says:

    This is one of my favorite poems by Millay.

    There is a line missing above, though. You will notice the 2nd stanza has only 3 lines. It should read something like (this is from memory though):

    As I went over Woody Knob
    And dipped into the hollow
    A youth was coming up the hill
    Any maid would follow.

Leave a Reply to Gunnar Cancel reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.