Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950) was an American poet and playwright who continues to be regarded as a major figure in twentieth-century literature. Millay and her three sisters were raised in Maine by their mother only, who taught them to value their independence and to appreciate all of the arts, including literature, visual art, and music.

Early recognition of talent

In 1912, at age 19, Millay (whose middle name really was after the New York City’s St. Vincent’s hospital) sent her poem, “Renascence” to The Lyric Year, a magazine that held a yearly poetry contest every year, and published winning entries.

Though her poem took only fourth place, it gained the notice not only of readers who felt it should have taken top prize, but of Caroline Dow, a wealthy patron of the arts. Taken with Millay’s passion for poetry, Dow paid Millay to attend Vassar College. She would otherwise not have been able to afford college.

An outpouring of poems; a feminist slant

A Few Figs from Thistles, her first major collection (1921), explored feminism and female sexuality, subjects that were controversial in their time. Second April dealt with heartbreak, nature, and death — the latter being a topic she wrote much about.

Edna St. Vincent Millay - young

Pulitzer Prize

In 1923, Millay won the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923 for her fourth volume of poems, The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver. She was only the second person to receive a Pulitzer for poetry, and the first woman to win the prize.

An unconventional marriage

In 1923, Millay embarked on an unconventional marriage with Eugen Jan Boissevain. Both she and her husband took other lovers throughout their marriage (Millay was openly bisexual, which was unusual for her time). He completely supported her career, even taking on much of their domestic duties after they bought their country home, a 700-acre farm she named Steepletop, in Austerlitz, NY.

Edna St. Vincent Millay at Steepletop

An untimely death

A year after her husband’s death, Millay died in 1950 after falling down a flight of stairs at Steepletop, an accident that is thought to have been precipitated by a heart attack. She was 58 years old and left a body of work that included some fifteen poetry collections, several plays, and many political writings.

Steepletop and the Millay Colony

A number of years after her death, the state of New York acquired a great portion of the acreage of Steepletop, and the funds were used to establish The Millay Colony for the Arts.

Today, this center offers residencies for writers and other creative artists, and has a museum dedicated to Millay, as well as garden trails and her gravesite. See links for both Steepletop and the Colony, under Visit, below.

Major Works

Biographies about  Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Quotes by Edna St. Vincent Millay

“A person who publishes a book appears willfully in public eye with his pants down. If it is a good book nothing can hurt him. If it is a bad book nothing can help him.”

“I am glad that I paid so little attention to good advice; had I abided by it I might have been saved from some of my most valuable mistakes.”

“I love humanity but I hate people.”

“Beauty is whatever gives joy.”

“Life must go on; I forget just why.”

“The younger generation forms a country of its own.”

“Not truth, but faith, it is that keeps the world alive.”

“Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.”

“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!”

“Childhood is not from birth to a certain age and at a certain age. The child is grown, and puts away childish things. Childhood is the kingdom where nobody dies.”

“It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another; it’s one damn thing over and over.”

“You see, I am a poet, and not quite right in the head, darling. It’s only that.”

“After all my erstwhile dear, my no longer cherished;
Need we say it was not love, just because it perished?”

“I will be the gladdest thing under the sun!

I will touch a hundred flowers and not pick one.”

“The longest absence is less perilous to love than the terrible trials of incessant proximity.”

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