Sunday, 1 March 2009


Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) (above) was renowned for her traditional poetry and bohemian life, becoming one of the leading 20th. century lyric poets. At the age of seven, Edna's parents separated, and she saw little of her father. Edna (who insisted on being called Vincent, even entering writing contests under that name) and her sisters were encouraged in their literary, musical and dramatic leanings. After leaving Vassar ( a liberal arts college in the scenic Hudson Valley), to which she had won a scholarship, she moved to Greenwich Village. Whilst at Vassar, she developed intimate relationships with several women. At the request of Vassar's drama department, Edna wrote her first verse play, "The Lamp and the Bell" (1921), a work about love between women.

In Greenwich she led a notoriously Bohemian life, and wrote anything she could find an editor willing to accept. She and the other writers of Greenwich Village were, according to Millay herself, "very, very poor and very, very merry." She joined the Provincetown Players in their early days, and befriended writers such as Witter Bynner, Edmund Wilson, Susan Glaspel, and Floyd Dell, who asked for Millay's hand in marriage. Millay who was openly bisexual, refused despite Dell's attempts to persuade her otherwise. That same year Millay published A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), a volume of poetry which drew much attention for its controversial descriptions of female sexuality and feminism.
Edna married Eugen Boissevain (above), a self-proclaimed feminist and widower of Inez Milholland, in 1923. Boissevain gave up his own pursuits, to manage his wife's literary career with notable success. According to Millay's own accounts, the couple acted like two bachelors, remaining "sexually open" throughout their twenty-six years of marriage, which ended with her husband's death in 1949. Edna St. Vincent Millay died in 1950.
Their first house was no. 75 1/2 Bedford Street, (above) (between Commerce and Morton Streets, reputedly the narrowest house in Manhattan. According to a plaque on the front of the building, Millay lived here from 1923-24 and wrote "The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver," for which she won the Pulitzer Prize.

Millay carried on several affairs, most notably with English actress 'Edith Wynne Matthison,' (above - without her Band of Merry Men), whom she first met at Vassar. Infusing conventional forms with a fervent contemporary spirit, Edna also wrote several plays and an opera libretto.

Her poem "Witch-Wife" exemplifies her bisexuality:-

"She is neither pink nor pale,
And she never will be 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."

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