Euclid Alone…Edna St. Vincent Millay
Who says early 20th-century Americans were a bunch of prudes who knew nothing about love? The life of Edna St. Vincent Millay suggests otherwise.
Born in Maine to a nurse and schoolteacher who divorced when she was 12, SVM grew up in poverty (but also great natural beauty) with her mother and two sisters on the coast of Maine. At 20, her poem “Renascence” earned her fame, and the next year she entered Vassar College. After graduation, she was a part of the Greenwich Village literary scene, and in 1923 won the Pulitzer Prize for Poetry for her work, “The Ballad of the Harp Weaver.”
SVM was openly bisexual; she began having relationships in High School. In 1923, she wed Eugen Jan Boissevain and had an open marriage with him. She died in 1950, age 58.
Wow! A trailblazer by any standard, and a very gifted poet into the bargain. Here is one of her sonnets:
Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare
Euclid alone has looked on Beauty bare.
Let all who prate of Beauty hold their peace,
And lay them prone upon the earth and cease
To ponder on themselves, the while they stare
At nothing, intricately drawn nowhere
In shapes of shifting lineage; let geese
Gabble and hiss, but heroes seek release
From dusty bondage into luminous air.
O blinding hour, O holy, terrible day,
When first the shaft into his vision shone
Of light anatomized! Euclid alone
Has looked on Beauty bare. Fortunate they
Who, though once only and then but far away,
Have heard her massive sandal set on stone.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay (1922)
Photo: Edna St. Vincent Millay with Magnolias in Bloom; 1914; WikiCmns; Public Domain.