Poetry Landmark: Edna St. Vincent Millay's hometown of Camden, ME
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892. After her parents divorced in 1900, Millay moved with her sisters and mother to Camden, Maine. In 1912, at her mother's urging, the nineteen-year-old Millay entered her poem "Renascence" into an anthology contest. The poem won fourth place and was published in The Lyric Year, bringing her instant acclaim and a scholarship to Vassar. Though an early poem, it contains the existential questioning and mix of archaic and modern diction that would mark Millay's later work. "Renascence" eventually became the title poem of Millay's first book, published the year she graduated from Vassar.
Millay's family moved several times while in Camden, leaving behind no single house as a landmark. However, below Mt. Battie, just north of the town proper, is the Whitehall Inn, where Millay recited "Renascence" to a captivated audience shortly after winning the contest. The Inn shares the vista of the mountains and sea that inspired the poem, which begins:
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I'd started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
Originally built as a sea captain’s house in 1834, the Whitehall Inn is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. A parlor room in the Inn is devoted entirely to Millay and contains her books, high school diploma, and photographs. An hour-long video retrospective titled Edna St. Vincent Millay: Renascence is also screened regularly in the parlor. Along Camden's waterfront, in the Harbor Hill Park, stands a bronze statue of Millay looking out into harbor. Sculpted by Robert Willis, the statue was unveiled in 1989.
About a six-hour drive from Camden, just outside Albany, New York, is the white clapboard house that was Millay's country home for twenty-five years. Millay bought the house and several hundred acres of farmland (originally a berry farm) with her husband, Eugen Boissevain, and named it Steepletop. The house remains as she left it upon her death in 1950, with her library and possessions still on display, and her gravesite on the grounds.