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Edna’s Fortress of Solitude

Portland Magazine Summerguide 2017

Maine’s landscape inspires stunning poetry.

By Colin W. Sargent

Camden Fireworks from Mount Battie

If you’re looking for “beauty overload,” Edna St. Vincent Millay is your guide to the exquisite. The local Rockland girl’s secret retreat, where she rose above sea level to listen for “the ticking of eternity,” was the summit of Mt. Battie in Camden.

As the New York Times reports, “Mount Battie, where Millay was inspired to write Renascence, rises sharply [above the] panorama of the Lincolnville-Camden-Rockport area, that 10-mile stretch of coast often described as one of the prettiest along the Eastern seaboard. On a clear day one can look, as Millay did, to the mountains west and north, over the bay and islands to Acadia to the east, and down to Camden Harbor and Rockport to the south. Near the small observation tower is a map identifying the islands that dot the bay, and a plaque commemorating Millay. Renascence ends with her lying on the solitary mountaintop discovering how easy it is to be in touch with the universe.”

Millay in dogwoodTo channel Millay (1892-1950), you can either 1) work your knuckles raw as the impoverished child of a mom who had to move from house to house to stay ahead of bill collectors in Rockland, or 2) book a room at the gorgeous Whitehall Inn in Camden, where Millay stunned the annual Waitresses’ Ball one summer’s end with her recitation of Renascence, later published in Atlantic Monthly. A visiting tourist was so moved upon hearing Millay dramatic rendition that after the show, she offered to give her a full scholarship to Vassar.

After Millay was world famous, she bought Ragged Island (off Orr’s Island). For decades, lobstermen gossiped about seeing her nude on her private isle. 

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