augury doggerel

Sunday, February 22, 2004


Edna St. Vincent Millay was born this day in 1892 in Rockland, Maine, and grew up poor but smart and ambitious in an all-female household. Between the ages of 12 and 18, Millay published 20 pieces in the children's magazine St. Nicholas, according to E.B. White, who was another childhood St. Nicholas contributor. In 1912, Millay was 20, her poem 'Renascence' was a surprise success, and a benefactor arranged for Millay to attend Vassar. And after Vassar, she took Greenwich Village.
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends´┐Ż
It gives a lovely light!

Millay wrote and performed and, as Edmund Wilson writes, she fascinated. One man she fascinated (she fascinated women, too) was Wilson, who called her "one of the only poets writing in English in our time [the first half of the 20th century] who have attained to anything like the stature of great literary figures in an age in which prose has predominated."

But Wilson had chased her, loved her, proposed to her, and was writing about her soon after her death a long time ago. Millay is now far, far out of fashion. Even the name Edna has grown old-fashioned and ugly without changing. She is not likely to be allowed back into fashion except (and you get the feeling the poet would not have liked this) for reasons unrelated to her poetry. Still, no one will know if you sneak out and read her a little on her birthday.

What lips my lips have kissed, and where, and why,
I have forgotten, and what arms have lain
Under my head till morning; but the rain
Is full of ghosts tonight, that tap and sigh
Upon the glass and listen for reply;
And in my heart there stirs a quiet pain
For unremembered lads that not again
Will turn to me at midnight with a cry.
Thus in the winter stands the lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet knows its boughs more silent than before:
I cannot say what loves have come and gone;
I only know that summer sang in me
A little while, that in me sings no more.


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