Day 25 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Portrait by a Neighbor”

Edna St. Vincent Millay

Edna St. Vincent Millay (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

I love used book stores, and if the used book store has a coffee shop, I will think that I have somehow passed from this life into my great reward. I remember my ex did not like going shopping for books or shoes with me, the shoes because I am hard to fit, and the books because I never want to leave the store. Any other shopping experience for me is nothing less than a hunting trip. I know what I want; I go in and get it; I get out.  But after a leisurely time in a used bookstore one day some time ago, I picked up the copy of Edna St. Vincent Millay’s book, A Few Figs From Thistles, the one pictured in the video. It’s the expanded edition with a few poems not published in the first 1920 version. The lady at the counter looked at me over her glasses when I handed her the book.

She said, “I don’t like her.” I wanted to respond, “I don’t care.” But I smiled and gave her my two dollars and fifty cents. I have heard Millay called a hedonist, and according to the Poetry Foundation, the publication of A Few Figs from Thistles “caused consternation among some of her critics and provided the basis for the so-called ‘Millay legend’ of madcap youth and rebellion.”

But what I like about her is her honestly, no false nobility, no taking herself too seriously. Whatever she may have been, Millay was, it seems, truthful, and her satire and bite seemed tamed with a heart of kindness in her work, as evidenced in poems like “Ricuerdo.” You can find the text of the entire little booklet at Digital Library.

The images in the video are from my balcony and back porch, and the ugly little courtyard that I am trying to make homey.

PORTRAIT BY A NEIGHBOR

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!

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12 thoughts on “Day 25 – 30 Days, 30 Readings: Edna St. Vincent Millay, “Portrait by a Neighbor”

  1. “Savage Beauty” is a wonderful biography. Nice sunburst, BTW, and I’ve been hunting around Amazon for birdbaths. I was suprised at how reasonably priced they are. Going to stick one in the clover and the Queen Anne’s Lace!

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    • I shall check out Savage Beauty then. I found that birdbath just today at a hardware store on the way home. And you are right; it cost far less than I expected. The sunbursts were a bargain outlet find a couple of years ago. i was showing my laziness since moving from the third floor to the two story apartment downstairs. I stuck the one behind that electrical thingy because I hadn’t taken the time to try to put a nail in the bricks. :)

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  2. What a romantic poem about a free spirit read beautifully. Once again I LOVED you preamble about finding Edna’s book etc as much as the reading. I too am a bibliophile who loves coffee and red wine!!!!

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    • Well if we ever sit at the same table we will start with red wine and end with a good strong coffee. :) I’m glad you like the stories I tell, because at heart I always thought I was more writer than performer. This month just steps up the performance part a good notch or there.

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    • I truly love your writing and your performance poetry. Make mine a good Chateauneuf du Pape or Shiraz and end with a good Java coffee bean by the way, Thanks!!!

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  3. Pingback: Of My Ego and the Muse « The Dad Poet
  4. Pingback: Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Birthday Weekend | The Dad Poet

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