What Lips My Lips Have Kissed The Loves and Love Poems of Edna St. Vincent Millay

Daniel Mark Epstein

Holt Paperbacks



Trade Paperback

328 Pages



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What Lips My Lips Have Kissed is the story of a rare sort of American genius, who grew up in grinding poverty in Camden, Maine. Nothing could save the sensitive child but her talent for words, music, and drama, and an inexorable desire to be loved. When she was twenty, her poetry would make her famous; at thirty she would be loved by readers the world over. As revealed in this widely celebrated biography, Edna St. Vincent Millay was considered by many to be the most seductive woman of her age. Few men could resist her, and many women also fell under her spell. From the publication of her first poems until the scandal over her Fatal Interview twenty years later, gossip about the poet's liberated lifestyle prompted speculation about who might be the real subject of her verses.

Using letters, diaries, and journals of the poet and her lovers that have only recently become available, Epstein, himself an acclaimed poet and critic, tells the astonishing story of the life, dedicated to art and love, that inspired the sublime lyrics of Edna St. Vincent Millay.


Praise for What Lips My Lips Have Kissed

"Rapturous . . . [Epstein] extols Millay, persuasively, as 'America's foremost love poet.'"—Merle Rubin, The Wall Street Journal

"Epstein's book is comprehensive and tidy at the same time. Its passions are those of a poet who understands and admires Millay's craft while not quite escaping the fate that snared many another male poet: falling in love with her."—Clarinda Harriss, The Baltimore Sun

"[Epstein] writes with acuity and grace about the young Millay's determination, yearnings, and intellectual spirituality . . . Epstein's keen reading of Millay's poetry and temperament is smart, stirring, and invaluable."—Donna Seaman, Booklist

"Well researched and briskly narrated."—Judith Thurman, The New Yorker

"Epstein creates a rendering worthy of the poet's energetic life."—People

"A passionate paean . . . A terrific volume that supplements rather than supplants Nancy Milford's Savage Beauty, Epstein presents Millay (1892-1950) as an erotic dynamo whose serial sexual encounters and rich love life inspired her finest poems, which he praises with a lexicon of superlatives . . . Epstein begins on a night in 1911 with a riveting account of the nubile, nightgowned Millay writing in her notebook and chanting by candlelight. He then leaps backward to the story of mother Cora Millay before settling into a chronology from which he does not often deviate . . . Epstein is a phrasemaker, consistently delighting with apposite metaphors and piquant comments on her verse. He chronicles her wild years at Vassar, her cometary appearance in the literary sky with 'Renascence' (1912), her arrest for supporting Sacco and Vanzetti, her Pulitzer, and her enormous popularity. He accuses academic critics—who have often disdained Millay—of doing her 'a grave injustice, mistaking clarity and unity for triviality.' With great compassion, he charts Millay's sad decline into alcoholism, drug addiction, and depression. A powerful prose-poem whose subject is the language of love—and the poet who sang in no other tongue."—Kirkus Reviews (starred review)

Reviews from Goodreads



  • Daniel Mark Epstein

  • Daniel Mark Epstein is an award-winning essayist, poet, playwright, translator, biographer, and musician. He's received the Prix de Rome and a Guggenheim Fellowship, and has been anthologized in several collections of essays and poetry. His books include biographies of Aimee Semple McPherson, Nat King Cole, and seven volumes of poetry. He lives in Baltimore.