In a life rich with honors, Ragged Island was Edna St. Vincent Millay’s most treasured prize.
By Caskie StinnettA poetess, at least in the public mind, is a fragile, slight person, given to periods of intense concentration and brooding but so totally lacking in physical stamina as to cause constant concern in the hearts and minds of those around her. Not since Elizabeth Barrett Browning has a poetess fit this conception so snugly as Edna St. Vincent Millay, whose Camden childhood provided the backdrop for some of her most impressive work. Max Eastman, the writer, once remarked after visiting Miss Millay and her husband at Spindletop, their home in northern New York state, that he felt “on entering Spindletop that some very fragile piece of china, inestimable in value, was in unstable equilibrium upstairs.”
In June, 1933, worn-out and ill, Miss Millay was invited by Esther Adams, a close friend, to celebrate belatedly the poetess’ forty-first birthday at Miss Adams’ home on Bailey Island, near Brunswick. Miss Millay and Eugen Jan Boissevain, her Dutch businessman-husband, arrived on June 3, and they awoke the next morning to find a heavy fog had moved in from Casco Bay. They dressed hurriedly and took a walk along the shore and, as so often happens, the fog began to dissipate as the sun rose. Miss Millay stopped and clutched Eugen’s hand when she saw an island emerge from the mists across the bay. “Is it a mirage?” she whispered. “It is the most beautiful island I have ever seen. I want it.”
Top: A modern, wooden house now stands on Casco Bay’s Ragged, Island, but nearby, one can still see the
foundations of the simple, stone house where Edna St. Vincent Millay and, her husband spent quiet summers,
far from the demands of her fame. Photograph by Jeno Rule Burdino.