"I simply can't write letters."

(She definitely could.)

I simply can’t write letters. I have made a name for the disease from which I suffer: I have named it EPISTOPHOBIA. I haven’t written a letter all winter. I wish it were socially impossible to write a letter. I wish there were no post-office, no stamps, no facilities whatever for expediting the smug, intrusive, tedious letters that people write.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Witter Bynner, 2 May 1935

Luckily Edna’s “epistophobia” was temporary. And thank god, because she really could write letters. Witty ones, loving ones, pensive ones, principled ones, anguished ones—enjoyable, all. In fact, in my humble opinion, Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote letters as well as anyone and sits comfortably near the top of the pile. My copy of Letters of Edna St. Vincent Millay, a magnificent book edited by Allan MacDougall, published in 1952, and now, it seems, out-of-print (if true, a publishing crime), has more folded corners than any other book in my possession: on almost every page can be found a turn of phrase, sentence, paragraph, or entire letter, of note. Below, because I like you, are just a few.

Please give me some good advice in your next letter. I promise not to follow it.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Arthur Ficke, 6 Mar 1913

I am not a child in love with you, to be patted and sent away, or to be scolded and shaken. I am an almost reasonable human being, who has not spoken to anyone for a long time.

People fall in love with me, and annoy me and distress me and flatter me and excite me and—and all that sort of thing. But no one speaks to me. I sometimes think that no one can. Can you?

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Arthur Hooley, 31 Jul 1915

Spring is here—and I could be very happy, except that I am broke. Would you mind paying me now instead of on publication for those so stunning verses of mine which you have? I am become very, very thin, and have taken to smoking Virginia tobacco.

Wistfully yours,

Edna St. Vincent Millay

P.S. I am awfully broke. Would you mind paying me a lot?

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Poetry editor Harriet Monroe, 1 Mar 1918

Mother, do you know, almost all people love their mothers, but I have never met anybody in my life, I think, who loved his mother as much as I love you. I don't believe there ever was anybody who did, quite so much, and quite in so many wonderful ways. I was telling somebody yesterday that the reason I am a poet is entirely because you wanted me to be and intended I should be, even from the very first. You brought me up in the tradition of poetry, and everything I did you encouraged. I can not remember once in my life when you were not interested in what I was working on, or even suggested that I should put it aside for something else. Some parents of children that are “different” have so much to reproach themselves with. But not you, Great Spirit.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Cora B. Millay, 15 Jun 1921

You might write me a letter once in a while, I should think. How about it? So what if your fountain-pen is lost or busted or stolen or something else as good as dead, and you can never find a pencil with a point, and mother has the Fox, and the only scrap of paper you can find is the back of a bill from L. P. Hollander or the margin of an invitation to tea from Davy Belasco, and you can never remember how much the postage is to France, anyhow, and besides you never have a stamp, anyhow, and there's never any place to rest your elbow whilst you write except in a pot of massage cream, and the only envelope you can possibly find in the whole goddam flat, besides those that are sketched over with obelisks and church-steeples and muscular undressed hussies, is the one that you have already addressed to Riegie and then decided not to write him after all. Nevertheless how about it? Rise on your legs, you poor piece of imitation Camembert, and write your loving sister a little note.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to her sister, Norma, 8 Sep 1921

I have made my train, & here I sit. The thing is just about to pull out. The conductor has just called all aboard in the most musical & lovely way—sort of like this—

I put this down here not because it’s done right, but because I want to remember how it goes, & this is near enough.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Eugen Jan Boissevain, Jan 1924

My hands are so dirty it’s almost theatrical.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Eugen Jan Boissevain, Jan 1924

It is not only that I am tired. I am sunk in a lethargy of boredom too deep for action of any kind.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Eugen Jan Boissevain, 5 Feb 1924

Your recent gross and shocking insolence to one of the most distinguished writers of our time has changed all that.

It is not in the power of an organization which has insulted Elinor Wylie, to honour me.

And indeed I should feel it unbecoming on my part, to sit as Guest of Honour in a gathering of writers, where honour is tendered not so much for the excellence of one’s literary accomplishment as for the circumspection of one’s personal life.

Believe me, if the eminent object of your pusillanimous attack has not directed her movements in conformity with your timid philosophies, no more have I mine. I too am eligible for your disesteem. Strike me too from your lists, and permit me, I beg you, to share with Elinor Wylie a brilliant exile from your fusty province.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to the League of American Penwomen, 18 Apr 1927

It’s not true that life is one damn thing after another—it’s one damn thing over & over—there’s the rub—first you get sick—then you get sicker—then you get not quite so sick—then you get hardly sick at all—then you get a little sicker—then you get a lot sicker—then you get not quite so sick—oh, hell.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Arthur Ficke, 24 Oct 1930

The presence of that absence is everywhere.

Edna St. Vincent Millay on the death of her mother | Letter to Llewelyn Powys, 20 Apr 1931

I am at present under the influence of hashish, gin, bad poetry, love, morphine and hunger.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to Witter Bynner, 18 May 1935

It is quaint how much I miss you. It is archaic. It should have gone out along with samplers and paintings on china. But perhaps these have come in again, together with herb gardens and uncomfortable furniture.

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to George Dillon, 29 Dec 1938

I have already encountered the first dandelion. I stood and stared at it with a kind of horror. And then I felt ashamed of myself, and sorry for the dandelion. And suddenly, without my doing anything about it at all, my face just crumpled up and cried.

How excited he [her late husband, Eugen] always was when he saw the first dandelion! And long before the plants got big enough for even a rabbit to find them, he had dug a fine mess, for greens. He used to say “pick dandelions”; and I would say, “Not pick,—dig.” And he would say, “Oh, don't scold poor Uge—he does so his best.”

Edna St. Vincent Millay | Letter to George Dillon, 29 Dec 1938

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