Wednesday, November 16, 2011
Edna St. Vincent Millay: the free spirit
She was once the most famous person in the entire world. And now barely anyone knows she existed.
Who was Edna St. Vincent Millay?
This red-haired, green-eyed beauty was born in 1892 in Maine to a financially-strained single mother and a household of talented, artistic sisters.
When she was 20, Vincent won fourth place in a poetry contest for Renascence, a poem which made her an overnight sensation on the East coast.
When it became known the young poet was living in poverty, a wealthy fan paid her way to Vassar College.
While in school, Vincent blossomed into a bisexual bohemian, writing some of her best poems by day and discovering delicious, passionate carnal pleasure by night.
As an undergrad, she not only became the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry, but she also published a best-selling collection of her work.
Upon graduating from Vassar, Vincent moved to Greenwich Village in New York City.
Her hippie lifestyle was almost half a century before its time. The gorgeous vixen lounged around her apartment, drinking booze and experimenting with drugs.
Dozens of men and women fell in love with her. Vincent slept with them all, but kept her heart at arm's length.
She quickly became the most famous woman in the entire world. Her poetry readings in the 1920s were more like rock concerts, with hysterical fans screaming for encores and hundreds of people desperate to catch a glimpse of the ethereal enchantress.
Every move she made was headlined in the tabloids. Millionaires around the world demanded her presence at their parties.
But it wasn't long before Vincent's dizzying glam-fest came to a screeching halt. The 20-something-year-old fell victim to alcoholism, drug addiction, and numerous embarrassing health problems, which hindered her travel and work.
Fortunately, the literary princess had a knight in shining armor waiting in the sidelines. To the shock of her friends and lovers, Vincent married Eugen Boissevain, a Dutch businessman.
The couple moved to a 435-acre dairy farm in upstate New York, which they named Steepletop. It would become the beloved home where they would spend the rest of their lives.
Instead of hindering Vincent's work, Eugen nurtured it. He allowed Vincent to retain her lovers and explore her sexuality. He desperately tried nursing her back to health from her addictions.
He simply loved her.
One year after her husband's death in 1949, Vincent tumbled down a staircase at Steepletop, breaking her neck and dying in a crumbled heap on the floor. She was only 58.
Many conspiracy theorists believe Vincent threw herself down the stairs, heartbroken over the loss of her soulmate, Eugen. Others speculated she was inebriated or had a heart attack.
Steepletop is now home to the Millay Colony for the Arts, which offers one-month residencies to visual artists, composers and writers.
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!
-First Fig, Edna St. Vincent Millay