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Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay
by Nancy Milford


p.xiii 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!

p.38 Her diary was not only her duty, it was also her "confidante, (that e on the end makes it feminine. It would be out of my power to tell all these things to a mere confidant)."

p.41 Dearest, when you go away
     My heart will go, too,
Will be with you all the day,
     All the night with you.
Where you are through lonely years,
     There my heart will be.
I will guide you past all fears
And bring you back to me.

p.54 My life is but a seeking after life;
I live but in a great desire to live;
The undercurrent of my every thought:--
To seek you, find you, have you for my own
Who are my purpose and my destiny.
For me, the things that are do not exist;
The things that are for me are yet to be...

p.56 I want not to be comforted, but to comfort;--to hold your head on my lap, and love you, and fuss with your hair, and cry over you; not stormily, not hysterically, but tenderly; and quietly, lest you see and be grieved. I want to find things for you, to pick up things after you, to straighten your tie and brush your coat, to fill your pipe--all the little things so many women have done and that I long to do.

p.92 I hoped that he would love me,
     And he has kissed my moth,
But I am like a stricken bird
     That cannot reach the south.
For tho' I know he loves me,
     Tonight my heart is sad;
His kiss was not so wonderful
     As all the dreams I had.
[ by Sara Teasdale ]

p.108 ...she was luminous, as if there was a light behind her.

p.126 Like all truly intellectual women, these were in spirit romantic desperadoes. They despised organizational heretics of the stamp of Luther and Calvin, but the great atheists and sinners were the heroes of the costume picture they taught as a subject called history. Marlowe, Baudelaire--above all, Byron--glowed like terrible stars above their literary courses.
     --Mary McCarthy, "The Blackguard," from Memories of a Catholic Girlhood

p.131 It was as if she wanted to discover who she was through her reflection in his eyes.

p.160-161 I had a little Sorrow,
     Born of a little Sin,
I found a room all damp with gloom
     And shut us all within;
And, "Little Sorrow, weep," said I,
     "And, Little Sin, pray God to die,
And I upon the floor will lie
     And think how bad I've been!"

Alas for pious planning--
     It mattered not a whit!
As far as gloom went in that room,
     The lamp might have been lit!
My Little Sorrow would not weep,
My Little Sin would go to sleep--
To save my soul I could not keep
     My graceless mind on it!

So I got up in anger,
     And took a book I had,
And put a ribbon on my hair
     To please a passing lad,
And, "One thing there's no getting by--
I've been a wicked girl," said I'
     But if I can't be sorry, why,
     I might as well be glad!"

p.207 The Lamp and the Bell was a play that Millay was commissioned to write while she was in Paris, for the fiftieth anniversary of the founding of Vassar College. It was in five acts with a cast of forty-eight, not counting musicians, cupids, pages, and children. Freighted with the heavy cargo and paraphernalia of mock Elizabethan drama, it listed but stayed afloat because it was centered on the remarkable love between two young women who become stepsisters. Nothing could have been cannier for Vassar. It was lavishly produced outdoors on the greensward, where Vincent had often preformed, and it was a ringing success.

p.221 As ever, the companion of your middle age, the friend of your declining years, the old woman who'll sit beside the fire with you fifty years from now and knit the left stocking while you knit the right.

p.229 PARIS APRIL 1ST, 1922

A mile of clean sand.
I will write my name here, and the trouble that is in my heart.
I will write the date & place of my birth,
What I was to be,
And what I am.
I will write my forty sins, my thousand follies,
My four unspeakable acts. . . .
I will write the names of the cities I have fled from,
The names of the men & women I have wronged.
I will write the holy name of her I serve,
And how I serve her ill.
And I will watch with peace the great calm of the tide
Licking from the sand the unclean story of my heart.
p.239 Cora was reading carefully and with a clear purpose, listing hundreds of herbs and flowers and their healing medicinal properties, searching for something--jotting down which time of the year was best for brewing their seeds or roots, bark or blooms, under what signs, planets, and conditions they were most useful. The herb alkanet is mentioned again again. In her notes, Culpepper's Complete Herbal carried this description:

It hath a great and thick root of a reddish colour; long, narrow, hairy leaves, green like the leaves of bugloss, which lie very thick upon the ground; the stalks rise up compassed round about, thick with leaves. . . . It is a herb under the dominion of Venus, and indeed one of her darlings. . . . If you apply the herb of the primitives, it draws forth the dead child.

Alkanet was the abortive Cora was searching for. Once she found it in flower in July, she was able to use it to cause Vincent to miscarry in the first few weeks of her pregnancy. Her mother, in other words, country-wise nurse that she'd been, aborted her own daughter.

p.281 Warlock is an Anglo-Saxon word, which, in its original sense, meant "a traitor, a breaker of a pledge."--You may think this is too ancient & hidden to use, since that meaning is quite obsolete, but it's a grand title, & we could always explain it in the Argument.

p.296 "I wrote a letter to the League of American Penwomen, telling them where to get off," Vincent wrote in her diary. "I wish I had been a Fifth Area street sparrow yesterday--or in other words:

     I wish to God I might have shat
     On Mrs. Grundy's Easter hat.

p.304 Yet look to her that enters now,--
A silver maiden leading a silver faun;
Her eyes are fixed on you with bright intent
Behold her, how she shines!--
Her brow is lit with all the jewels of the mines,
Her legs are lashed with the chilly grasses of the dawn.

p.305 My darling,
     You must never doubt me again. Truly, that is the one thing I could not bear. For indeed that is the only ugly thing that ever could be between us. I remember that just for an instant once I questioned something you said: I said, "Is that really true?"--and you said in such a strange way,--"You don't believe me."--And your face was just as if somebody had blown out the candle there.

p.335 This was the girl poet, a treasured, pure, tiny beauty, not the swashbuckling, burly, perverse Lord Byron who had an army of creditors and lovers and who swam the Grand Canal in Venice at night holding a torch aloft with one hand.

p.344 How beautiful is a woman whose avarice is over.
She is content that time should take what it will.
She is proud to have no pride. She asks of her lover
Love only, for good or ill.

She makes of her body a strange bed till morning
Wherein he breathes oblivion better than sleep;
And when he wakes she is nowhere--she has fled without warning,
And left him nothing to keep

But the trace of tears on the pillow, and a bright strand
Out of her hair, and happiness, and a little grief. . .

346 In spite of the neurotic moods that have come between us--in spite of my bad manners and insane behaviour. You have been sweet and patient always, and I am really grateful. If I ever amount to anything, it will be because you loved me, and continued to love me though all these terrible years.

p.350 clochard--one of those derelicts who lurk under bridges in Paris.

p.414 If you could make her see that we don't really care at all about her religion, her politics or her morals, that as far as we are concerned, she is free to go tattooed forward, aft and amidships with anchors and mermaids, or to worship the God Bip, and be as anthropophagous as a crocodile; that if her writing should prove to be very high class indeed, we would even try to bail her out for minor munchings, and keep her out of trouble generally, then, perhaps something might really be done.

p.419 "After her manuscript was burned in Florida she came to see us. All the newspapers published the story of her loss of manuscripts. We were not at all sure what we were going to say--how could anyone be consoled after such a loss? And do you know what she said? She said 'O Florida. O, cold Florida! Could any state be horrida?' Well, we both just roared with laughter--and relief."

p.427 She was destroying herself and, my dear, there is nothing you can do in the face of that but watch. Or refuse to watch.

p.429 "Elegiac"?

p.431 "Rendezvous":

Not for these lovely blooms that prank your chambers did I come.
     Indeed,
I could have love d you better in the dark;
That is to say, in rooms less bright with roses, rooms more casual,
     less aware
Of History in the wings about to enter with benevolent air
On ponderous tiptoe, at the cue "Proceed."
Not that I like the ash-trays over-crowded and the place in a mess,
Or the monastic cubicle too unctuously austere and stark,
But partly that those formal garlands for our Eighth Street
     Aphrodite are a bit too Greek,
And partly that to make the poor walls rich with our unaided
     loveliness
Would have been more chic.

Yet here I am, having told you of my quarrel with the taxi-driver over
     a line of Milton, and you laugh; and you are you, none other.
Your laughter pelts my skin with small delicious blows.
But I am perverse: I wish you had not scrubbed--with pumice, I
     suppose--
The tobacco stains from your beautiful fingers. And I wish I did not
feel like your mother.
p.472 Do you know Christina Rossetti's "Goblin Market"?--Did we ever read it together?--I forget. It is the story of two sisters, one of whom cannot resist the calling of the goblins in the wood, to come and buy and eat the goblin fruit, and eats it, and goes mad, and is dying of longing to taste it again; and h er sisters goes to the wood and risks the loss of her own health and life to get some of the goblin's fruit to cure the one who is wasting away to death.
p.488 Meen Liefje:
     Ik gaar naar top-side.
     Misschien slaap ik.
     Nisschien niet.
     Oy sey nooit t'hius
[Dearest:
     I'm going topside.
     Maybe I'll sleep.
     Maybe not.
     You are never home.]