Berenice Abbott (1898–1991) Gelatin silver print, c. 1929
Literarily and temperamentally precocious, Edna St. Vincent Millay exemplified the spirit of the roaring twenties and the emancipation of American women. After a rebellious college career at Vassar, she moved to Greenwich Village, the center of avant-garde culture.
Poetically, Millay was a Romantic, inspired by the ecstatic visions of Keats and Wordsworth; her first notable poem, “Renascence” (1912), spoke of a nature that “breathed my soul back into me.” Her famous quatrain “First Fig” (1920) celebrates sexual abandonment: “My candle burns at both ends; / It will not last the night; / But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends— / It gives a lovely light.”
Millay’s romanticism was at odds with literary modernism, and her reputation has declined. For a while, however, she perfectly represented the age that she did so much to define. She won the Pulitzer Prize in 1923 for The Ballad of the Harp-Weaver.
Was it for this I uttered prayers, And sobbed and cursed and kicked the stairs, That now, domestic as a plate, I should retire at half-past eight?Edna St. Vincent Millay “Grown-Up,” 1920