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Today is George Washington’s birthday. I expect he would be weeping to see the caliber of the man who is now president and is engaged in destroying the federal government and our democracy. Imagine tossing out a highly qualified director of national intelligence and replacing him with a totally inexperienced loyalist who will purge the CIA of anyone who does not display loyalty to Trump, not the Constitution. Imagine putting loyalists in charge of every department whose job is to gut it.
On a happier note, it is the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay. Garrison Keillor wrote about her on his daily “Writer’s Almanac.”
It’s the birthday of poet Edna St. Vincent Millay (books by this author), born in Rockland, Maine (1892). She was raised by her mother, who supported the family by making wigs and working as a nurse. By the time she was 14, she was publishing poems in the children’s magazine St. Nicholas. Her mother couldn’t afford to send her to college, but when she was 19, she entered a poem called “Renascence” in a poetry contest hoping to win the large cash prize. Her poem didn’t win first prize, but when she recited it at a public reading in Camden, Maine, a woman in the audience offered to pay for her to go to Vassar College, and Millay accepted.
At Vassar, she was the most notorious girl on campus, famous for both her poetry and her rebelliousness. Vassar’s president, Henry Noble MacCracken, once wrote to her: “You couldn’t break any rule that would make me vote for your expulsion. I don’t want a banished Shelley on my doorstep.” She wrote back, “Well, on those terms I think I can continue to live in this hellhole.” She moved to Greenwich Village after college, and most of the men in the literary scene fell in love with her, including the critic Edmund Wilson, who proposed to her and never got over her rejection.
Millay wrote poems about bohemian parties and free love in her collection A Few Figs from Thistles (1920), and she became one of the icons of the Jazz Age. When she gave readings of her poetry, she drew huge crowds of adoring fans. She recited her poetry from memory, delivering the poems with her whole body. Many critics considered her the greatest poet of her generation. The poet Thomas Hardy famously said that America had produced only two great things: the skyscraper and the poetry of Edna St. Vincent Millay. She became the first woman poet to win the Pulitzer Prize, in 1923.
Millay wrote, “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!”