"It's not true that life is one damn thing after another; it is one damn thing over and over."
--Edna St. Vincent Millay
Renowned poet Edna St. Vincent Millay was born on Feb. 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine. She had two sisters, and all three were raised solely by their mother, Cora Millay, who had separated from her husband while Vincent was very young. Cora encouraged the children to be independent and follow their ambitions.
Millay discovered a love of literature early on, and in 1912 she entered a poem she’d written called “Renascence,” into a contest and came in 4th place. The poem was published in a collection called “The Lyric Year” and she soon received a scholarship to Vassar. At college, Millay got involved in theater and continued to write and publish some of her poetry. Her first book of poetry, “Renascence and Other Poems,” came out in 1917.
After school Millay moved into Greenwich Village in New York. She lived in an extremely tiny attic, carried on numerous relationships with men and women, and wrote vigorously. One of her close relationships was with fellow writer Floyd Dell, whom she declined a marriage proposal from. In her 1920 poetry collection, “A Few Figs from Thistles,” Millay wrote descriptively about feminism and sexuality. “The Harp Weaver,” a collection published in 1923, received the Pulitzer Prize.
The same year she won the Pulitzer, Millay married writer and Dutch coffee importer Eugen Boissevain. The couple moved to a farm named Steepletop near Austerlitz, New York, and Millay continued her rise to fame in poetry while Boissevain helped to manage her career. Other volumes of her poetry to be published during these years were “Fatal Interview” in 1931, “Conversations at Midnight” in 1937, and “Make Bright the Arrows” in 1940. Her work, which focused on the shortness of life and the bittersweet emotions of love, was considered groundbreaking for the era. She became incredibly popular for her passionate poetry readings and at the height of her popularity did extensive world tours. Millay also wrote a number of plays, some of which include "The Lamp and the Bell," "Two Slatterns and a King," "The Princess Marries the Pgae," and "The Murder of Lidice."
Boissevain and Millay were a sexually open couple. Millay carried on an intimate relationship for several years with writer George Dillon, and the two collaborated their efforts to translate Baudelaire’s “Flowers of Evil” in 1936. Although their marriage was an open one, Eugen and Vincent remained fairly happily married for 26 years. During their final years together, however, Millay became addicted to morphine while undergoing treatment for severe muscle pain. Boissevain passed away in 1949 and less than a year later, on Oct. 19, 1950, Millay died after falling from the top of a staircase. The couple’s old home, Steepletop, is now an artists colony.
Help for this node came from the biography "Savage Beauty," by Nancy Milford.