Edna St. Vincent Millay

Topics: Edna St. Vincent Millay, Poetry, Austerlitz, New York Pages: 8 (1143 words) Published: October 8, 1999
Edna St. Vincent Millay, a poet and playwright
, was best known for her lyrical poetry. She wrote many poems, on topics such as love, fidelity, erotic desire, and feminist issues. The part of Millay that wasn't highly publicized is that she addressed herself as a bisexual and had many affairs with woman before her marriage. It is not said if she continued sexual involments with women after her marriage (though it is quite possible), nor it is not said which of her poems are written about women rather than men.

Edna St. Vincent Millay grew up in a different sort of family. Born February 22, 1892 in Rockland, Maine, and the oldest of three daughters of Henry Tolman Millay and Cora Lounella (Buzelle) Millay. When Edna was around the age eight her mother divorced her father. After the divorce her mother worked as a nurse to support the family. Her mother encouraged Edna and her sisters to study music and literature and urged them to be independent and ambitious.

Edna's first published poem "Forest Trees." Written when she was fourteen, appeared in St. Nicholas Magazine (October 1906). With in the next four years, St. Nicholas published five more of her poems one of which, "The Land of Romance" received a gold badge of the St. Nicholas League and later was reprinted in Current Literature (April 1907). In 1912 "Renascence" one of Millays poems was anthologized in The Lyric Year and met with critical acclaim.

When Millay's poems were published she gained literary recognition and earned a scholarship to Vassar. At Vassar she continued to write poetry and became involved in the theater. In 1922 one of her plays The Harp Weaver was awarded the Palitzer Prize. Millay also published a book of poems in 1922 called "A Few Figs from Thistles" in this volume, she described female sexuality in a way that gained her much attention, as she put fourth the idea that a women has every right to sexual pleasure and no obligation to fidelity.

Following her successes in the 1920's and early 1930's, Millay's poetry gradually suffered a critical and popular decline. Unfortunately, her real poetic achievements were overshadowed by her image as the free (but "naughty") woman of the 1920's. During the last two decades of her life, millay was almost ignored critically, although her Collected Sonnets appeared in 1941. Since the late 1960's, however, there has been a renewed interest in Millay's works.

On July 18,1923, she married Eugen Jan Boissevain. She then spent much of the next few years in reading engagements throughout the United States, and with her husband she toured the Orient in 1924. Boissevain, a native of the Netherlands and an importer, devoted his life to the poet. They lived Steepletop, their rural home in Austerlitz, N.Y., and at Ragged Island, their summer home in Casco Bay, Maine. Her health was precarious in 1939, and she became partly paralyzed in her right arm as an aftermath of a motor accident in 1936, undergoing prolonged medical treatment. The Second World War brought new strains. Anxiety for the safety of Boissevain's family in German-occupied Holland and the loss of Boissevain's holdings in the Dutch East Indies brought severe financial hardship. Boissevain died on August 30, 1949.

In the 1940's, her poems were frankly intended to arouse national patriotism and fervor. Make Bright the Arrows; 1940 Notebook (1940) and The Murder of Lidice (1942) contain a variety of these verses. Millay was elected to the American Academy of Arts and letters (1940) and received the gold medal of the Poetry Society of America (1943).

After her husband's death, Millay went on living in their isolated house in Austerlitz and died there alone of a heart attack on October 19, 1950. She was buried at Steepletop. She left in manuscript a number of current poems, as well as a number of unpublished poems from earlier periods. These were...
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