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Edna St. Vincent-Millay Love Poems

She died much too young, this poet, this lesbian, this dramatist, this icon of early 20th century intelligentsia. At 58 years old she was discovered in her home alone, dead from a heart attack.

Photo of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay in her Greenwich Village days

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!

(“The First Fig” from “A Few Figs from Thistles”)

Edna St. Vincent Millay lived life on her own terms. She found love with both men and women, and was quite open about it, both socially and in her writing.

Her affairs with women began at Vassar. Her first lover was Wynne Matthison, a British actress. In one of her letters to Matthison, Millay wrote, “When you tell me to come, I will come, by the next train, just as I am. This is not meekness, be assured; I do not come naturally by meekness; know that it is a proud surrender to You.”

There were many other lovers. Even when she formally married, Millay insisted on an open marriage. While she and her husband lived “like two bachelors”, little is actually known of her affairs during this time. It is known that she continued her correspondence with assorted women during the time she was married. Millay’s husband died in 1949; she died a year later, leaving us a legacy of brilliant poetry.

Edna St. Vincent Millay — A Passionate Woman

from “Renascence”:

She is neither pink no pale,
And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hand in a fairy-tale,
And her mouth on a valentine.

She loves me all that she can,
And her ways to my ways resign;
But she was not made for any man,
And she never will be all mine.

Dancing shoes of Edna St Vincent Millay

The dancing shoes of the woman who took The Village by storm, Edna St Vincent Millay

Millay’s passions of youth transformed into passions for the world as she matured. She was a pacifist, even going to murder trials to read soothing poetry to the accused.

In 1922 she was awarded the Pulitzer Prize.

In 1927 she was arrested as one of the “death watch” for Sacco and Vanzetti, and worked to raise money for their defense.  The collected letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay contain one missive that wrote to the Massachusetts Governor, Alvan T. Fuller, pleading for the lives of Sacco and Vanzetti.  Excerpts are here.

During World War II Millay was struck by the Nazi massacre at Lidice writing

The whole world holds in its arms today
The murdered village of Lidice,
Like the murdered body of a little child,
Innocent, happy, surprised at play.

Edna St Vincent Millay’s cavalier attitude toward love is well recorded, and even she mocked how unfaithful she was:

Millay was raised by her mother in “gay and courageous poverty”, as described by the novelist Floyd Dell. I would have liked to read poetry from her more mature years. Any lesbian poet with this much passion could only have brought goodness to the world. We are grateful that she was with us as long as she was.

2 Responses to Edna St. Vincent-Millay Love Poems

  1. LavenderPoet April 16, 2014 at 10:41 pm #

    There is a new play about Edna St. Vincent Millay, being premiered in Toronto. With Individual Desire is written by Susanna Fournier and will be directed by Kelli Fox. It tells the story of a pivotal moment in the life of famed American poet Edna St. Vincent Millay, when she ran away to a farmhouse in Dorset with her mother for two months, fleeing a scandal in Paris. It seems as though she brought out the scandalous wherever she went, even to open minded Paris!

  2. MaryAnn August 1, 2014 at 9:19 pm #

    Some of Ms. Millay’s poems have been set to music! (see http://www.santafenewmexican.com/pasatiempo/music/classical_music/santa-fe-chamber-music-festival-poetic-inspiration-lowell-liebermann/article_eec994aa-fa5a-524a-a666-f4ab99e864d6.html#user-comment-area ). They are being premiered in New Mexico this summer.

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