Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) — nom-de-guerre Nancy Boyd — American poetess and playwright, who at age thirty won the Pulitzer Prize, then only the third woman ever to do so, was catapulted into fame at nineteen, when her mother encouraged her to enter a poem called “Renascence” in a contest for The Lyric Year — which won, which launched her into a literary life rife with lewdness, love-affairs, liquor. Time has disclosed her to be a gifted but uneven poet — one of America’s greatest sonneteers — with the flashes of genuine genius in some of her less formal poems. Here is one such:
To what purpose, April, do you return again?
Beauty is not enough.
You can no longer quiet me with the redness
Of little leaves opening stickily.
I know what I know.
The sun is hot on my neck as I observe
The spikes of the crocus.
The smell of the earth is good.
It is apparent that there is no death.
But what does that signify?
Not only under ground are the brains of men
Eaten by maggots.
Life in itself
An empty cup, a flight of uncarpeted stairs.
It is not enough that yearly, down this hill,
Comes like an idiot, babbling and strewing flowers.
–Edna St. Vincent Millay, RIP