A Poem For Saturday

Dish poetry editor Alice Quinn writes:

From May 17th through September 7th, The New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx presents Great American Gardens and The Women Who Designed Them, an exhibit Edna_St._Vincent_Millayhighlighting the achievements of some of the most prominent women in early 20th century landscape design.

A poetry walk on the grounds features poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was the star poet of their generation. She was the first woman to win the Pulitzer Prize for poetry in 1923, and in the middle of the Great Depression, her collection Fatal Interview, published in 1931, sold 35,000 copies within a few weeks of its release.

Nancy Milford, author of Savage Beauty, a superb biography of Millay, describes the poet as the herald of the New Woman, “She smoked in public when it was against the law for women to do so, she lived in Greenwich Village during the halcyon days of that starry bohemia, she slept with men and women and wrote about it in lyrics and sonnets that blazed with wit and a sexual daring that captivated the nation…. Her performing self made people feel they had seen the muse alive . . . .”

This weekend we’ll feature some of the poems on the grounds of The New York Botanical Garden from now until September 7th beginning with a mock self-portrait, Millay as seen by a neighbor. Her poems compliment a riveting historical exhibit in the library rotunda and a spectacular floral exhibit in the conservatory, a recreation of Beatrix Farrand’s 1926 masterpiece in Seal Harbor, Maine, the Abby Aldrich Rockefeller Garden.

“Portrait by a Neighbour” by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Before she has her floor swept
Or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A-sunning in the sun!

It’s long after midnight
Her key’s in the lock,
And you never see her chimney smoke
Till past ten o’clock!

She digs in her garden
With a shovel and a spoon,
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon,

She walks up the walk
Like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter
And pays you back cream!

Her lawn looks like a meadow,
And if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing
And the Queen Anne’s lace!

(From Collected Poems by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Reprinted with the permission of The Permissions Company, Inc., on behalf of Holly Peppe, Executor, The Millay Society. All rights reserved. Photo is Carl Van Vechten’s 1933 portrait of Millay, via Wikimedia Commons)