February 11, 2009 Raleigh, North Carolina From the Academy Audio Archive

About this poet

Poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, on February 22, 1892. Her mother, Cora, raised her three daughters on her own after asking her husband to leave the family home in 1899. Cora encouraged her girls to be ambitious and self-sufficient, teaching them an appreciation of music and literature from an early age. In 1912, at her mother's urging, Millay entered her poem "Renascence" into a contest: she won fourth place and publication in The Lyric Year, bringing her immediate acclaim and a scholarship to Vassar College. There, she continued to write poetry and became involved in the theater. She also developed intimate relationships with several women while in school, including the English actress Wynne Matthison. In 1917, the year of her graduation, Millay published her first book, Renascence and Other Poems. At the request of Vassar's drama department, she also wrote her first verse play, The Lamp and the Bell (1921), a work about love between women.

After graduating from Vassar, Millay, whose friends called her "Vincent," moved to New York City's Greenwich Village, where she led a Bohemian life. She lived in a nine-foot-wide attic and wrote anything she could find an editor willing to accept. She and the other writers of Greenwich Village were, according to Millay herself, "very, very poor and very, very merry." She joined the Provincetown Players in its early days and befriended writers such as Witter Bynner, Edmund Wilson, Susan Glaspell, and Floyd Dell, who asked for Millay's to marry him. Millay, who was openly bisexual, refused, despite Dell's attempts to persuade her otherwise. That same year Millay published A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), a volume of poetry which drew much attention for its controversial descriptions of female sexuality and feminism. In 1923 her fourth volume of poems, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. In addition to publishing three plays in verse, Millay also wrote the libretto of one of the few American grand operas, The King's Henchman (1927).

Millay married Eugen Boissevain, a self-proclaimed feminist and widower of Inez Milholland, in 1923. Boissevain gave up his own pursuits to manage Millay's literary career, setting up the readings and public appearances for which Millay grew quite famous. According to Millay's own accounts, the couple acted liked two bachelors, remaining "sexually open" throughout their twenty-six-year marriage, which ended with Boissevain's death in 1949. Edna St. Vincent Millay died in 1950.


Selected Bibliography

Poetry

Collected Poems (1956)
Mine the Harvest (1954)
Collected Poems (1949)
Poem and Prayer for an Invading Army (1944)
Collected Lyrics (1943)
Collected Sonnets (1941)
Invocation of the Muses (1941)
Make Bright the Arrows (1940)
There Are No Islands Any More (1940)
Huntsman, What Quarry? (1939)
Conversations at Midnight (1937)
Wine from These Grapes (1934)
Fatal Interview (1931)
The Buck in the Snow (1928)
Distressing Dialogues (1924)
Poems (1923)
The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver (1922)
Second April (1921)
A Few Figs from Thistles (1920)
Renascence and Other Poems (1917)

Drama

The Murder of Lidice (1942)
The Princess Marries the Page (1932)
The King's Henchmanv (1927)
Three Plays (1926)
Distressing Dialogues (1924)
Aria da Capo (1921)
The Lamp and the Bell (1921)
Two Slatterns and a King (1921)


Multimedia

 

 

Assault

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950
I had forgotten how the frogs must sound
After a year of silence, else I think
I should not so have ventured forth alone
At dusk upon this unfrequented road.

I am waylaid by Beauty. Who will walk
Between me and the crying of the frogs?
Oh, savage Beauty, suffer me to pass,
That am a timid woman, on her way
From one house to another!

This poem is in the public domain.

This poem is in the public domain.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine.

by this poet

poem
Hearing your words, and not a word among them 
Tuned to my liking, on a salty day 
When inland woods were pushed by winds that flung them 
Hissing to leeward like a ton of spray,
I thought how off Matinicus the tide 
Came pounding in, came running though the Gut, 
While from the Rock the warning whistle cried,
poem
What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why, 
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain 
Under my head till morning; but the rain 
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh 
Upon the glass and listen for reply, 
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain 
For unremembered lads that not again 
Will turn to
poem
"Curse thee, Life, I will live with thee no more!
Thou hast mocked me, starved me, beat my body sore!
And all for a pledge that was not pledged by me,
I have kissed thy crust and eaten sparingly
That I might eat again, and met thy sneers
With deprecations, and thy blows with tears,—
Aye, from thy glutted lash,