Feb. 22, 2003

If I should learn, in some quite casual way

by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Poem: "If I should learn," by Edna St. Vincent Millay from Writing New York: A Literary Anthology (Washington Square Press).

If I should learn

If I should learn, in some quite casual way,
    That you were gone, not to return again-
Read from the back-page of a paper, say,
    Held by a neighbor in a subway train,
How at the corner of this avenue
    And such a street (so are the papers filled)
A hurrying man-who happened to be you-
    At noon to-day had happened to be killed,
I should not cry aloud-I could not cry
    Aloud, or wring my hands in such a place-
I should but watch the station lights rush by
    With a more careful interest on my face,
Or raise my eyes and read with greater care
Where to store furs and how to treat the hair.

It's the birthday of writer Jane Bowles, born in New York City in 1917. She is best known for her play In the Summer House (1954).

It's the birthday of humorist and cartoonist Edward St. John Gorey, born in Chicago, Illinois in 1925. He is most famous for his work, The Gashlycrumb Tinies (1963), and has published other books of illustrated poems.

It's the birthday of writer Meridel Le Sueur, born in Murray, Iowa in 1900. Le Sueur's work included the novels Harvest (1977) and Ripening (1982).

It's the birthday of author Seán O'Faoláin, born in Cork, Ireland in 1900. He wrote novels and short stories about Ireland's often brutal past, including the collections Midsummer Night Madness (1932) and The Man Who Invented Sin (1948).

It's the birthday of poet and playwright Edna St. Vincent Millay, born in Rockland, Maine in 1892. She started writing poetry at a very young age. She went to Vassar College and, the year of her graduation, came out with her first collection of poetry, Renascence, and Other Poems (1917). She moved to Greenwich Village in New York City after college and began to associate with many prominent artists and writers, including poet Wallace Stevens and playwright Eugene O'Neil. She became one of the most famous bohemians of the Twenties. It was during this period that Millay penned the famous lines, "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." She was very interested in fame and money, however, and published popular articles in Vanity Fair or Ainslee's magazines under the pseudonym Nancy Boyd. She had numerous love affairs with famous writers including Floyd Dell and the critic Edmund Wilson, who would later make her the heroine of his book I Thought of Daisy (1929). Though Millay's lifestyle was that of the single, non-traditional woman, she continued to write most of her poetry in traditional sonnet and ballad forms. She went on a tour of Europe for Vanity Fair in 1921 and then began a poetry reading tour in the Midwest United States in 1924 with her husband, Eugen Boissevain. They traveled across the country as Edna gave readings, went to San Francisco where they sailed to the Orient and sailed around the world, eventually coming into New York from the east. One night in 1950, Millay had been up all night in her study drinking coffee and reading proofs of a translation of Virgil's Aeneid. She went downstairs to pour herself a glass of wine, and on the way back up, she suddenly felt faint and sat down on the stairs. Here, Edna St. Vincent Millay died "quietly of a heart attack with a glass of wine in one hand and a page of poetry in the other."

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