Edna St. Vincent Millay’s Playfully Lewd Self-Portrait

MillayPoetic amusement from the only woman who can get away with calling Edmund Wilson “Bunny.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay may be one of the most celebrated poets of the twentieth century and the recipient of the 1923 Pulitzer Prize for Poetry, only the third woman to win the award, but she also possessed the rare — especially in literary circles — talent for not taking herself too seriously and knowing how to infuse her craft with the proper dose of playfulness and lighthearted creative revelry. Much of that shines through in The Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay— the terrific out-of-print tome that gave us Millay’s stirring love letters to Edith Wynn Matthison and her lyrical ode to the love of music — but nowhere more brilliantly than in a letter from the summer of 1920.

One evening in July, Millay and two of her friends, poet John Peale Bishop and legendary literary critic Edmund Wilson, at the time managing editor of Vanity Fair, amused themselves by writing poetic self-portraits. Hers bespeaks in equal measures her playful spirit, keen self-awareness, and relaxed acceptance of sensuality, as well as exuding a healthy confidence in the merits of her own naked body:

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