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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 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

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

Drama

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


Multimedia

From the Image Archive

 

Inert Perfection

Edna St. Vincent Millay, 1892 - 1950
“Inert Perfection, let me chip your shell.
You cannot break it through with that soft beak.
What if you broke it never, and it befell
You should not issue thence, should never speak?”

Perfection in the egg, a fluid thing,
Grows solid in due course, and there exists;
Knowing no urge to struggle forth and sing;
Complete, though shell-bound. But the mind insists

It shall be hatched ... to this ulterior end:
That it be bound by Function, that it be
Less than Perfection, having to expend
Some force on a nostalgia to be free.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Inert Perfection" from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

Edna St. Vincent Millay, "Inert Perfection" from Collected Poems. Copyright 1931, 1934, 1939, © 1958 by Edna St. Vincent Millay and Norma Millay Ellis. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Literary Executor, The Millay Society. www.millay.org.

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

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

by this poet

poem
Oh, Prue she has a patient man,
And Joan a gentle lover,
And Agatha's Arth' is a hug-the-hearth,­—
But my true love's a rover! 

Mig, her man's as good as cheese
And honest as a briar,
Sue tells her love what he's thinking of,­—
But my dear lad's a liar! 

Oh, Sue and Prue and Agatha
Are thick with Mig and Joan
poem

People that build their houses inland,
   People that buy a plot of ground
Shaped like a house, and build a house there,
   Far from the sea-board, far from the sound

Of water sucking the hollow ledges,
   Tons of water striking the shore,—
What do they long for, as I long for

poem
Time cannot break the bird's wing from the bird.
Bird and wing together
Go down, one feather.

No thing that ever flew,
Not the lark, not you,
Can die as others do.