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Millay the Poet
Born in Rockland, Maine in 1892, Edna St. Vincent Millay early on displayed the literary talents that she later became known for. She was only nineteen years old when she published one of her most famous poems, Renascence. Over the next three decades, she published poetry, plays, political writings, and a libretto for an opera set to music by Deems Taylor. She also went on cross-country reading tours and recited poetry over the radio to support the war effort. Her work was honored in 1923 with the Pulitzer Prize.
In the immediate post-World War I era, Millay emerged as a major figure in the cultural life of Greenwich Village, when the Village served as an incubator of every important American literary, artistic, and political movement of the period. As part of this milieu, Millay's work and life came to represent the modern, liberated woman of the Jazz age, free of the restrictions of the past, as represented in her famous lines of poetry, "My candle burns at both ends..."
In 1925, Millay and her husband, Eugen Boissevain, a Dutch importer, purchased the property at Steepletop, a 19th-century farmhouse, in Austerlitz, New York. They spent the next 25 years creating both a peaceful place where Millay could write and a social gathering spot that their friends—writers, musicians, and others—could enjoy.
Millay died at Steepletop in 1950. Her gravesite is on the property, along with those of her husband, her mother Cora, her sister Norma, and her brother-in-law Charles Ellis.
Since Millay's death, many editions of her poetry as well as several biographies have been published. The Millay Society recommends the following introductions to her life and work:
- Norma Millay, editor. Collected Poems: Edna St. Vincent Millay (Harper & Row, 1956)
- Elizabeth Barnett, editor. Collected Sonnets of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Harper & Row, 1988)
- Colin Falck, editor. Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems (Carcanet, 1991; UK edition, 1992)
- Holly Peppe, editor. Edna St. Vincent Millay: Early Poems (Penguin Books, 1998)
- J.D. McClatchy, editor. Edna St. Vincent Millay: Selected Poems (American Poets Project, 7: Library of America, 2003)
- Daniel Mark Epstein. What Lips My Lips Have Kissed: The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Henry Holt & Company, 2001)
- Nancy Milford. Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Random House, 2001)
- Marion Meade. Bobbed Hair and Bathtub Gin: Writers Running Wild in the Twenties (Doubleday, 2004)
In 1998, the Library of Congress acquired an extensive collection of original Millay manuscripts and other materials; information on the collection is available on the Library's web site.
Millay in the garden at Steepletop, c. 1940's.