“I’m so tired of hearing about ‘Renascence,’ I’m nearly dead. I find it’s as hard to live down an early triumph as an early indiscretion.”
Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Clearly my ruined garden as it stood
Before the frost came on it I recall –
Stiff marigolds, and what a trunk of wood
The zinnia had, that was the first to fall;
These pale and oozy stalks, these hanging leaves
Neverless and darkened, dripping in the sun,
Cannot gainsay me, though the spirit grieves
And wrings its hands at what the frost has done.
If in a widening silence you should guess
I read the moment with recording eyes,
Taking your love and all your loveliness
Into a listening body hushed of sighs . . . .
Though summer’s rife and the warm rose in season,
Rebuke me not. I have a winter reason.
We experienced the best of winter this past weekend in Minneapolis, perfect for the pond hockey events around the area. Cold enough to produce the bright white squeaky soft snow that muffles sound and reshapes the light so that you see the world in a different way. The roads were bad, bad enough to close schools and cancel activities and force everyone inside to cook and play games for 24 hours. It was warm enough, at least for Minnesotans that have the winter gear and proper attitude, that working and playing outside was comfortable. It was exactly the kind of January weekend I enjoy most.
Millay was bi-sexual, her first lovers all women during college. In my opinion, bisexuality is the least accepted consonant among the LGBQT community. It is isn’t militant enough for some political factions of sexual politics, particularly feminist sexual politics, an undercurrent of “pick a side why don’t you” running through the underbelly of the discourse. I don’t think Millay would have used that term to describe herself, labels on sexuality are a relatively new concept. She was a generous and self absorbed lover, never truly discarding anyone in her life it seems, once someone became her lover for a period of time. The passion could go out of the balloon quickly with Vincent in terms of sex, but she always surrounded herself with vibrant people and the most vibrant remained on as friends.
The circumstances leading up to her marriage to Eugen Boissevain are a bit convoluted. She had pursued and rejected several marriage proposals for various reasons prior to her marrying Boissevain. She was living in Europe and somewhat miserable and lonely, both her younger sisters having already married. Millay was tired of the constant threat of unpaid bills hanging over her head and wanted more stability that a marriage could provide. When Eugen entered Vincent’s life he was getting over the tragic death of his first wife, Inez Milholland, who had died 7 years earlier. By all accounts, Eugen was the pursuer and he got what he wanted. Eugen was a good fit for Vincent. He was not threatened by her feminist politics, nor her talent as an artist and had enough money to allow her to focus on her literary pursuits. He contained the poise and confidence to not be threatened by her love affairs with other men and women during the remainder of their lives and marriage, while being a good companion to Vincent.
A former lover of Vincent’s, Alyse Powers, described Eugen this way:
“Handsome, reckless, mettlesome as a stallion breathing the first morning air, he would laugh at himself, indeed laugh at everything, with a laugh that scattered melancholy as the wind scatters the petals of the fading poppy… One day his house would be that of a citizen of the world, with a French butler to wait on the table and everything done with the greatest bienséance, the next the servants would have as mysteriously disappeared as bees from a deserted hive, and he would be out in the kitchen washing the dishes and whistling a haunting Slavic melody, as light-hearted as a troubadour. He had the gift of the aristocrat and could adapt himself to all circumstances … his blood was testy, adventurous, quixotic, and he faced life as an eagle faces its flight.”
In short, Eugen was as complicated a personality as Vincent and they fit together intricately for the remainder of their days. The next 15 years Vincent and Eugen traveled, lived and worked at Steepletop and made a life together. Vincent worked hard as a writer and used this period to establish herself in both her place in literary and feminist history and influence. That she eventually fell both out and into vogue subsequently is a testament to her greatness that is at the core of her best work. True genius is rare and eventually finds its proper place in our collective cultural appreciation of art.
by Edna St. Vincent Millay
Still will I harvest beauty where it grows:
In coloured fungus and the spotted fog
Surprised on foods forgotten, in ditch and bog
Filmed brilliant with irregular rainbows
Of rust and oil, where have a city throws
Its empty tins; and in some spongy log,
Whence headlong leaps the oozy emerald frog. . . .
And a black pupil in the green scum shows,
Her the inhabiter of divers places
Surmising at all doors, I push them all.
Oh, you that fearful of a creaking hinge
Turn back forevermore with craven faces,
I tell you Beauty bears an ultra fringe
Unguessed of you upon her gossamer shawl!