Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Happy Birthday, Vincent

Vincent MillayIn 1911 a slim, red-headed, 19-year-old Maine girl got up and read her contest-winning poem, Renasence (find it here), in Camden, Maine. She couldn't afford college, but the poem inspired a woman in the audience to pay her way to Vassar. That girl was Edna St Vincent Millay, born this day in 1892. An icon of the Jazz Age and a rock-star poet, Vincent (as she preferred to be called, hating the name 'Edna' - she was named for the hospital where her uncle escaped death just before her birth) lived in Greenwich Village and Paris, and reveled in the Bohemian life style (perhaps you could say she truly was a Mainiac). After her marriage she lived in Austerlitz, New York, until her death in 1950; the farm, Steepletop, is now a writers colony. She was the first woman to win a Pulitzer, and the second to win the Frost prize.

Probably her best known poem is "First Fig", not least because it's short enough to memorize easily:
    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!

And here are two more:

Kin to Sorrow

Am I kin to Sorrow,
        That so oft
Falls the knocker of my door --
        Neither loud nor soft,
But as long accustomed,
        Under Sorrow's hand?
Marigolds around the step
        And rosemary stand,
And then comes Sorrow --
        And what does Sorrow care
For the rosemary
        Or the marigolds there?
Am I kin to Sorrow?
        Are we kin?
That so oft upon my door --
        Oh, come in!


SHE is neither pink nor pale,
        And she never will be all mine;
She learned her hands in a fairy-tale,
        And her mouth on a valentine.

She has more hair than she needs;
        In the sun 'tis a woe to me!
And her voice is a string of colored beads,
        Or steps leading into the sea.

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.

(More Millay is here)

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