Biography of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in 1892. She and her two sisters were raised in New England—primarily Maine—by their mother following Millay's parents' divorce. A reader and writer from an early age, Millay was encouraged to pursue the arts. She published poems beginning in 1906, primarily in the children's publication St. Nicholas. In 1912, Millay submitted her poem "Renascance" to a contest hosted by the anthology project The Lyric Year. Though her poem did not win the contest, it gained attention from judges and, upon its publication, the public. As a result, a patron named Caroline B. Dow offered to pay for Millay's education. She was educated first at Barnard College and then at Vassar College before taking up residence in New York City, where she became a mainstay of the Greenwich Village literary scene.

Millay became a prolific writer known particularly for her poetry, starting with the publication of her first full-length collection Renascence and Other Poems. Her other poetry collections include the 1920 A Few Figs from Thistles, the 1921 Second April, and the 1923 Ballad of the Harp-Weaver, which earned her a Pulitzer Prize. Millay's poetic works also include the 1931 sonnet sequence Fatal Interview. A posthumous collection, Mine the Harvest, was published in 1954. In addition to her work as a poet, Millay was a prolific playwright. Her best-known dramatic works include the 1920 Aria da Capo and an opera, produced in 1927, called The King's Henchman. Millay also briefly performed as an actor in New York and wrote short fiction under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd, though her poetry and, to a lesser extent, her dramas remain her most popular and acclaimed works.

Millay is particularly known for her experimentation with and interest in more traditional forms, particularly the sonnet, during a period of widespread and radical formal experimentation. Despite her interest in more traditional forms, Millay was widely known as a radical and bohemian figure during her time. Her bisexuality, substance abuse problems, and progressive politics produced public fascination with Millay during a time when norms of femininity were shifting, and she was considered an embodiment of a new femininity. This reputation was bolstered by Millay's poetry, which often explored gender norms, featured skeptical and independent female speakers, and occasionally waded into hot-button political issues—for instance, in her 1927 “Justice Denied in Massachusetts,” which protested the infamous Sacco and Vanzetti trial. Indeed, Millay and others were even arrested when protesting the verdict, which was widely seen as anti-immigrant. Later, during World War II and the years leading up to it, Millay produced poetry championing the Allied cause in what many saw as both a literary disappointment and a betrayal of her anti-war bona fides. After several years of declining health, Millay died in 1950.

Today, Millay is known for her role in the changing social norms of the Jazz Age, for her exploration of feminism and other social issues, and for her work integrating forms like the sonnet into twentieth-century literature. The popularity she enjoyed at the height of her career gave way to a period of uninterest in the later years of her life and following her death. However, especially as a result of feminist scholarship and criticism, interest in Millay's life and work was revived in the late twentieth and twenty-first centuries. In 2002, Nancy Mitford published a biography of Millay, Savage Beauty.

Study Guides on Works by Edna St. Vincent Millay

"The Buck in the Snow" is a poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay describing the death of a male deer in the woods. The poem was first published in 1928 in the collection The Buck in the Snow.

In the work, an unidentified speaker describes seeing two...

Edna St. Vincent Millay's "Recuerdo" is a poem initially published in Poetry magazine in May 1919. It was subsequently republished as part of her 1922 collection A Few Figs from Thistles: Poems and Sonnets. Millay was inspired to write the poem...