blush of dawn Jade Nicole Beals

Edna St. Vincent Millay Celebrates a Birthday, with a Poem

Edna St. Vincent Millay was the first poet I’d read again that helped me start up the blog in 2020. I had mentioned her name in a poem, “The Sea Lair” in my first full-length poetry book, Moonflower (2018), poems spanning over a long period of years, and I would like her more in time.

Born in 1892 in Maine, Pulitzer Prize winning author, Edna St. Vincent Millay who lived in Greenwich Village, New York City and was a poet, peace activist (who supported women’s freedom as well as LGBT rights), was openly bisexual, and also a playwright celebrates her birthday today. She was well-known for her wildly popular poetry readings with fans screaming ‘encore’, as well as her fashion.

Edna was also appraised for her refreshing take on sonnets. I am greatly impressed with her Petrarchan sonnets (a kind of sonnet I’ve not been able to write yet, but have tried). These are said to be more easily written in Italian; she writes them beautifully in English.

Edna St. Vincent Millay in Boston, MA in 1927, protesting to support Italian immigrants, Sacco and Venzetti who were to be executed with what could be little evidence. (I just learned of the case from this photo in my book of poetry and don’t have all the facts.)

…Nice, I have such a similar white knitted outer-sweater as Edna is wearing in above photo.


by Edna St. Vincent Millay

WHAT should I be but a prophet and a liar, 
Whose mother was a leprechaun, whose father was a friar? 
Teethed on a crucifix and cradled under water, 
What should I be but the fiend’s god-daughter?

And who should be my playmates but the adder and the frog,
That was got beneath a furze-bush and born in a bog?
And what should be my singing, that was christened at an altar,
But Aves and Credos and Psalms out of the Psalter?

You will see such webs on the wet grass, maybe,
As a pixie-mother weaves for her baby,
You will find such flame at the wave’s weedy ebb
As flashes in the meshes of a mer-mother’s web,

But there comes to birth no common spawn
From the love of a priest for a leprechaun,
And you never have seen and you never will see
Such things as the things that swaddled me!

After all’s said and after all’s done, 
What should I be but a harlot and a nun?

In through the bushes, on any foggy day,
My Da would come a-swishing of the drops away,
With a prayer for my death and a groan for my birth,
A-mumbling of his beads for all that he was worth.

And there sit my Ma, her knees beneath her chin,
A-looking in his face and a-drinking of it in,
And a-marking in the moss some funny little saying
That would mean just the opposite of all that he was praying!

He taught me the holy-talk of Vesper and of Matin,
He heard me my Greek and he heard me my Latin,
He blessed me and crossed me to keep my soul from evil,
And we watched him out of sight, and we conjured up the devil!

Oh, the things I haven’t seen and the things I haven’t known,
What with hedges and ditches till after I was grown,
And yanked both ways by my mother and my father,
With a “Which would you better?” and a “Which would you rather?”

With him for a sire and her for a dam,
What should I be but just what I am?


A poem I had written and had published in a magazine last year; coincidentally, it was published right around her birthday, and that is my own photo on my page I took of a lake near home:

(post now includes audio of me reading the poem today:)

My cat Peeko loves her poetry and clever made up words. He’s loved to hear her poem, “The Bean Stalk.” He’s just heard the poem at the end of the post; look closely, you will see him grinning modestly.

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