As a young girl born and raised on the rugged coast of Rockland, Maine, few could have guessed Edna St. Vincent Millay (February 22, 1892 – October 19, 1950) was destined to become one of the greatest American poets of her time. The eldest of three daughters raised by a single mother struggling to make ends meet, Millay’s early life was full of sisterly mischief, untimely responsibility, and, most of all, a feminine love that would form the core of her poetry. Edna St. Vincent Millay’s life and work are celebrated in Village Preservation’s public outdoor exhibition, VILLAGE VOICES 2022.
Despite the family’s financial circumstances, Millay’s mother encouraged the budding poet to submit her work to newspapers and competitions, including the competition that would result in the publication of “Renascence,” one of Millay’s seminal works. From an early age, she taught Millay that to dream was to live, a lesson that would underpin her audacious life and dazzling poetry.
Millay’s undeniable talent, and a bit of serendipity, led to her enrollment at Vassar College where she was known for her rebellious wit as much as her entrancing stanzas.
Upon graduating, Millay dove into a Bohemian lifestyle in Greenwich Village, a place where the restless intellectual energy and insistence on nonconformity was a perfect match for her. It was here that she wrote some of her best work, including her 1923 Pulitzer Prize-winning “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.”
Millay’s mesmerizing style effortlessly infused the timeless and the timely. She intricately wove captivating imagery with disarming emotion to convey a deep reverence for life and feminine love. She strove to overthrow the dominant male voice in poetry by embodying and describing new, unexplored forms of female expression. In doing so, she crafted a life and a body of work undeniably touched by the feminine sublime.
All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I’d started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.
From “Renascence” written when Millay was only 20 years old.
Millay died at the very young age of 58 on October 19, 1950 at her farmhouse in Austerlitz, NY. She apparently took a spill down a staircase and died as a result of a heart attack. Fortunately for us, her work and her spirit live on today.
You can learn more about Edna St. Vincent Millay and about many other transformative women of Greenwich Village, as well as many other areas of interest, on our interactive Greenwich Village Historic District: Then & Now map.
And of course you can visit our outdoor public art exhibition, VILLAGE VOICES, and see the shadowbox honoring Millay at 75 1/2 Bedford Street.
The life and work of Edna St. Vincent Millay will be on display now through October 30 as part of our 2022 annual outdoor interactive public art exhibition: VILLAGE VOICES. Our exhibition features an engaging installation of exhibits displayed throughout our neighborhoods featuring photographs, artifacts, and recorded narration that provides entertaining and illuminating insight into the momentous heritage of the Village.