Poetry News

The Haunted House on the Hill

By Harriet Staff


As an article posted last week by the Boston Globe reported:

In 1918, Poetry magazine published a poem that helped make the 26-year-old Edna St. Vincent Millay, who was already famous, even more famous.

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!

Millay’s work is not as widely read now as it once was, but during the 1920s and 1930s she was one of the most famous women in America. She wasn’t just a literary success — a Junot Diaz, a Zadie Smith — she was an icon. She was Elvis, Madonna, Lady Gaga. People fell in love with her, or wanted to be her. Her readings were the rock concerts of the time: packed and ecstatic.

The article further details the writer's visit to Millay's former home and current living museum of sorts, which has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1972:

You can visit Steepletop, if you make a reservation. The house is at the top of a long, steep, unpaved road... The flowers she planted are still cut weekly and arranged in silver trumpet vases in the dining room, where her table is set for dinner and her cocktail glasses are on the sideboard. Millay liked to make a dramatically stealthy entrance at her own dinner parties; she would slip in unobserved as Eugen poured the drinks, and when the guests turned around there she would be, sitting at the table waiting for them to discover her. The house still feels as if she might appear at any moment. Of all the writers’ houses I’ve ever visited, Steepletop is the most personal. It’s also the most poignantly uncomfortable.

Everything at Steepletop is smaller than I had imagined. There’s a room with a long table in front of a mirror, where Millay the performance artist would spread out her pages and rehearse, reading aloud, watching herself; it was also her sewing room. In this house the appurtenances of mythmaking jumble together with the small accessories of daily existence. You think not just of Millay, but of all sorts of people who were once famous and aren’t anymore, or who are famous now and one day won’t be. It’s a reminder of the transience not just of celebrity, but of life itself.

To take your own tour of the literary giant's house visit the Edna St. Vincent Millay Society page for more information.

Originally Published: July 30th, 2013