Several times I read Edna St. Vincent Millay “Poems selected for young people”, c 1951. Her sister Norma had this collection published; Vincent had died in 1950. (Yes, Vincent is the name she used.) One of my favorite poems is the poem about train rides. The title is “Travel,” and you can also find it online at poets.org. Here are the last two lines of the 12-line poem:
Yet there’s not a train I wouldn’t take,
It doesn’t matter where it goes.
I felt like I was reading material for a research paper. I first bought the book “A Girl Called Vincent: The Life of Poet Edna St. Vincent Millay,” author Krystyna Poray Goddu, c 2016. As I was reading this book, The New Yorker, May 16, 2022, came in the mail, and there’s an article by Maggie Doherty about Vincent.
I had previously found an article about trains in the BBC Music Magazine from March 2022. It doesn’t mention Vincent, but it taught me a lot about how musicians wrote music influenced by their interest in trains . Antonin Dvořák was often at the Prague station to talk about locomotives with engineers. My favorite photo is of musician John Cage on a train in 1978. Often at that time, “Passengers were greeted at the station by bands and dancers, and tape recorders played unexpected sounds from random corners (BBC Music Magazine, p. 41). Edna St. Vincent Millay traveled extensively by train in the early 1900s. At least once she was in Minneapolis and gave a reading – in 1924.”In Minneapolis, where she gave two readings, the room for the second reading had to be changed three times to accommodate the crowd, the local newspaper reports” (Goddu, p. 135).
Now I will use the timeline to tell his life story. She was the eldest of three sisters. His mother, separated from their father, worked as a nurse for many people. Usually she was miles away from her daughters and they learned to take care of themselves. They mostly lived in Camden, Maine when they were young.
Vincent’s poem “Forest Trees” was published in St. Nicholas magazine in October 1906, when she was 14 years old. Then, in 1907, she was in a play at the Camden Opera House. At her high school graduation on June 16, 1909, Vincent read a poem she wrote. Soon she was in a piano recital and playing Dvořák “Humorous”. In 1912, she enters her poem “Renaissance” in a poetry contest. Many people remember reading this 214-line poem, perhaps when they were in middle school or high school. The last verse contains these verses:
The soul can split the sky in two,
And let the face of God shine through.
After graduating from high school, Vincent finally decides to go to college – first Barnard College, then Vassar. Here she continued to write poems and she acted in seven plays. After graduating on June 12, 1917, she began living in New York, and soon her sister Norma and their mother came to live with her. Vincent now has several books of poetry published, including “Renaissance and Other Poems”, “A few figs of thistles”, and “Second April.”
She travels on the ship Rochambeau to head for Europe, and lives in many places in Europe. Her mother ends up being with her.
The early 1920s brought him good and hard adventures. She met Eugen Boissevain and they married on July 18, 1923. They first lived in Greenwich Village, but eventually moved to a house in New York they called Steepletop. That year, she won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, the first woman to win this prize. But it was now that she started having stomach problems that she was treated for the rest of her life.
In 1924, she participated in a poetry reading with Robert Frost and Carl Sandburg
In December 1932, she was on the radio reading her poetry for eight weeks. This “was a milestone in American broadcasting” (p. 152).
His 1940s book, “Make the Arrows Shine” is anti-war. His last poetry reading was at Carnegie Hall in January 1941.
Eugen died in August 1949, and Vincent lived alone in Steepletop. She was alone during the December holidays. In the spring, she sees her first dandelion and remembers how much Eugen loved seeing the first dandelion. She’s crying.
Edna St. Vincent Millay died on October 19, 1950.
His sister Norma and her husband Charles lived at Steepletop until their deaths. You can find out more about Steepletop if you look online at www.millay.org.
I’m reading the book I borrowed from the Marshall-Lyon County Library: “Poetry is about who I am” Editor Elise Paschen, c 2010. I’m surprised Vincent isn’t in the book, but his friend Sara Teasdale is. On the back of the book there is a CD of some of the poets in the book reading their poems. Several of Vincent’s books are available from the Plum Creek Library System, marshallyonlibrary.org.