Wednesday, February 22, 2012

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 revelled 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 a few more:

Love is not all

Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink
Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain;
Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink
And rise and sink and rise and sink again;
Love cannot fill the thickened lung with breath,
Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;
Yet many a man is making friends with death
Even as I speak, for lack of love alone.
It well may be that in a difficult hour,
Pinned down by pain and moaning for release,
Or nagged by want past resolution's power
I might be driven to sell your love for peace
Or trade the memory of this night for food.
It well may be. I do not think I would.


Three Songs of Shattering

I

THE first rose on my rose-tree
Budded, bloomed, and shattered,
During sad days when to me
Nothing mattered.

Grief of grief has drained me clean;
Still it seems a pity
No one saw, -- it must have been
Very pretty.

II

Let the little birds sing;
Let the little lambs play;
Spring is here; and so 'tis spring; --
But not in the old way!

I recall a place
Where a plum-tree grew;
There you lifted up your face,
And blossoms covered you.

If the little birds sing,
And the little lambs play,
Spring is here; and so 'tis spring --
But not in the old way!

III

All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree!
Ere spring was going -- ah, spring is gone!
And there comes no summer to the like of you and me, --
Blossom time is early, but no fruit sets on.

All the dog-wood blossoms are underneath the tree,
Browned at the edges, turned in a day;
And I would with all my heart they trimmed a mound for me,
And weeds were tall on all the paths that led that way!

More Millay here

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