Yesterday, I wrote about the arrival at our house yesterday of this new book--an annotated collection of the poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay (Yale University Press). And I found myself on something of a riff about her rise and fall--and, now, return--in our cultural world.
Although (as I noted) her work was not exactly in the forefront of my education in high school and college, I was (dimly) aware of her. But my own interest in her accelerated considerably when I found I was going to be reviewing (for the Cleveland Plain Dealer) two new biographies of her in 2001--What Lips My Lips Have Kissed, by Daniel Mark Epstein, and The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, by Nancy Milford. (The review ran on September 16, 2001, five days after You Know What.)
I had known so little about her that both books were a revelation (I believe I said that Epstein was more interesting on her verse, Milford--who'd known her sister well--on her life). Despite my admiration for what Epstein had done, I was a bit predisposed, I guess, towards Milford because of her earlier biography Zelda, about the troubled life of Zelda Fitzgerald (1970)--and Milford had spent years on her Millay bio, coaxing from Millay's surviving sister Norma the documents and papers and information she needed. By the time Epstein was at work on her life, Norma had died, and all those papers were in the Library of Congress.
Anyway, Millay's life fascinated me, and soon I was requiring my students in English class to memorize poems by her, and my wife, Joyce, and I were whizzing around visiting relevant sites, particularly Millay's final home (Steepletop, named for the flowering steeplebush) near tiny Austerlitz, NY (and I mean tiny), a farmhouse up in the hills where she died after a tumble down the stairs, a tumble perhaps caused by drugs and alcohol (she had serious problems with both by then).
That farmhouse is now open to the public (link); it wasn't during our initial visits (though we were free to roam around the grounds)--and we've still not been inside, though we talk often of going there again, of touring. Anyway, here are a few pictures of the place we've taken--as well as the stones under which she and other family are buried (nearby on the property).
Tomorrow--I'll get into the new volume of poems and see what's going on ...