Birthday: February 22, 1892
Died At Age: 58
Sun Sign: Pisces
Born in: Rockland
Famous as: Poetess and Playwright
Quotes By Edna St. Vincent Millay
Spouse/Ex-: Eugen Jan Boissevain
father: Henry Tollman Millay
mother: Cora Lounella Buzzelle
siblings: Kathleen, Norma
Died on: October 19, 1950
place of death: Austerlitz
U.S. State: Maine
education: Vassar College
awards: 1923 - Pulitzer Prize for Poetry
Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poetess and playwright who was known for her feminist activism and her several love affairs. Some of her notable poems include ‘Second April’, ‘Wine from These Grapes’ and ‘A Few Figs from Thistles’. Besides writing a number of poems, she also wrote plays like ‘Aria da Capo’. She wrote her prose work under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. She acted as the script writer of “The King’s Henchman”, an opera. Her arrest regarding her involvement in the protest of Sacco-Vanzetti case was the inspiration behind writing ‘Justice Denied in Massachusetts’. She also wrote a five-act play ‘The Lamp and the Bell’, a poetic drama. Most of her poems are synonymous with perpetual youth. Most of these indicate feminine revolt and liberation. They deal with inevitable themes like love, sorrow, death and change in life. Brutalities carried out by nations like Spain, Germany and Japan acted as an inspiration for her works titled ‘Huntsman, What Quarry?’ and ‘The Murder of Lidice’. She was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry. Due to her praiseworthy contribution to American poetry, she was honoured with the Frost Medal.
Childhood & Early Life
Edna was born in Rockland, Maine, to Henry Tollman Millay, a schoolteacher, and Cora Lounella, a nurse. She had two siblings, both sisters, named Norma and Kathleen.
After her parents’ divorce in 1904, she started living with her mother and two sisters,
While attending Camden High School, she used to write for the school’s literary magazine ‘The Megunticook’. At 14, she bagged the St. Nicholas Gold Badge for poetry.
By the time she was 15, her poetry had been published in the popular children’s magazine ‘St. Nicholas, the Camden Herald’ and the renowned anthology ‘Current Literature’.
In 1912, she submitted her poem ‘Renascence’ in a poetry competition This praiseworthy poem secured fourth position in that contest. With the help of an education officer of Young Women’s Christian Association, she got a scholarship so that she can attend Vassar College.
For one semester, she studied preparatory courses at Barnard College. In 1913, she took admission at Vassar College where she studied literature and languages.
At the college, she used to write poetry and plays for the college’s magazine ‘Vassar Miscellany’. She even acted in her play ‘The Princess Marries the Page’. She completed her graduation in 1917. In the same year, she published ‘Renascence and Other Poems’.
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After completing her education, she shifted to New York City where she lived in Greenwich Village, surviving on meagre money. Here she acted with the Provincetown Players.
While living in New York, she earned her livelihood by publishing several short stories and poems in ‘Ainslee’s’ magazine under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. She also acted in socialist Floyd Dell’s play ‘The Angel Intrudes’.
In 1919, she wrote a one-act anti-war verse play ‘Aria da Capo’ which she directed for the Provincetown Players.
In 1920, she published ‘A Few Pigs From Thistles’. This controversial work of Edna deals with the issues of female sexuality and feminism. In the same year she started writing poems for ‘Vanity Fair’, a magazine.
From 1920 to 1923, she spent her time in Europe. There she used to send satirical sketches to ‘Vanity Fair’ under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd.
She met sculptor Thelma Wood when she went to Paris in January 1921. In the same year, she published two plays and a collection of poetry titled ‘Second April’. This poetry consisted of elegies written in memory of one of her friend who died of influenza in 1918.
In 1923, she published ‘The Harp-Weaver and Other Poems’.
In 1925, she wrote the script for an opera titled ‘The King’s Henchman’. The script was published and went through four editions; this earned her a decent amount of money.
In 1927, she was actively involved in the Sacco-Vanzetti case by joining in a protest for which police arrested her. Her arrest made her to write and publish ‘Justice Denied in Massachusetts’, a poem that appeared in “New York Times”.
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‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver’ published in 1923 is one of her most famous works. The poem depicts a poor woman who cannot provide basic necessities to her little son. This poetry shows the mother weaving clothes for her son while playing her harp.
Published in 1939, her poetry ‘Huntsman, What Quarry?’ reflects her protest against the brutalities carried out by Fascist Spain, Nazi Germany and imperialistic Japan.
Awards & Achievements
She received the prestigious Pulitzer Prize in 1923, for her poem titled ‘The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver’. The poem is about a mother’s love towards her son.
For her lifetime contribution to American Poetry, she was awarded the Frost Medal. She was the second woman to receive this honour.
Personal Life & Legacy
Being a bisexual, she developed several relationships with women like Edith Wynne Matthison, an actress in silent films. At that time, she was attending school.
In later period of her life, she had close relationships with writers like Witter Bynner, Arthur Davison Ficke and Susan Glaspell. Author Floyd Dell and Critic Edmund Wilson proposed marriage to her. But she rejected both of them.
While studying at Vassar College, she met Eugen Jan Boissevain whom she married in 1923. Boissevain was a feminist and besides taking care of domestic responsibilities, he also supported her career. They had no children.
Her husband died of lung cancer in 1949. After his death, Edna became dependent on alcohol.
She passed away at the age of 58 after suffering a heart attack.
This renowned poetess planned to become a concert pianist when she was very young. But when her teacher suggested that her hands were too small to play the piano, she decided to devote her time for writing.
She was the first woman to be awarded the Pulitzer Prize for poetry.