“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!”
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950)
“I do not think there is a woman in whom the roots of passion shoot deeper than in me,” 20-year-old Millay wrote in her diary. “It seems to me that I am, incarnate, rapture and melancholy…. And what I have lived I have lived doubly, actually and symbolically.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
Independent, flamboyant Millay, led a notoriously Bohemian life. She and the other writers of Greenwich Village were, according to Millay herself, “very, very poor and very, very merry.” She lived in a nine-foot-wide attic writing tough-minded poems about sex, betrayal and the price of being a woman. This liberated woman of her times was in poetry, a traditionalist who absorbed influences from classical English poets and was devoted to the sonnet form. She was very popular and gave poetry readings to standing room only crowds. Even in the midst of The Great Depression, Vincent’s work sold by the thousands.
She wrote openly of her many affairs, her bisexuality, and her independence as a woman in her poetry. One can hear the permission given to women of the era to ignore gender boundaries in her sonnet, “I, Being Born a Woman and Distressed.”
However, my favorite sonnet is the wistful “What lips my lips have kissed” about lost loves:Whatlips 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 a lonely tree,
Nor knows what birds have vanished one by one,
Yet know 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.
(Edna St. Vincent Millay)