Thursday, December 22, 2016

MILLAY | Edna's "Poem" after Eugen's Death

Edna and Eugen at sea, c. 1923.
My research on the Boissevain family proceeds slowly in part because of the language barrier. Much of the record is in Dutch. 

Here is a note from Engelien de Booij to her cousin Hilda van Stockum that is notable because it mentions a "poem" by Millay about Eugen after his death (she lived on after him for a little more than a year). I

t also shows that the flow of information from Engelien to me was often via HvS and in Dutch. After Engelien's death I was given documents by her cousin and executor that Engelien had left for me. As she promised in the note below, she did several translations of letters, mostly  from Willem van Stockum to his mother. She had been working on them in the months before she died.

The following is my transcription of Engelien's hand-written letter and my translation based on Google Translate and the Hippocrene Standard Dutch-English Dictionary. 

Bilthoven, October 21, 1998. 
Lieve Hilda, 
ik ontdekke dat ik Edna’s gedicht dat zij ha Eugen’s dood schreef, toch hier had – ik had het overgedreven uit moeder's gedichtenverzameling en zend het je hierbij (copie) voor John, misschien kent hij dit niet. Ik vind het nog altijd heel ontroerend, maar misschien lees jij het met anderen ogen? Over een paar maanden hoop ik de andere strikken voor John op te diepen. Heel veel lief. Engelien.


Bilthoven, October 21, 1998.
Dear Hilda [van Stockum], 
I discovered I still had here Edna's poem that she wrote after Eugen's death – I had transferred it from mother's [Hilda de Booij's] poem collection and send it to you here (copy) for John [Tepper Marlin], maybe he does not have it. I still find it very moving, but maybe you read it with others' eyes? In a few months I hope to unearth the other pieces for John. Lots of love. Engelien.

What is this "poem" that Edna wrote after Eugen's death? Three possibilities:

1. It may be the "penciled draft of a poem" – of which only the last three lines are cited in both Nancy Milford's biography (Chapter 40), Savage Beauty, and Daniel Mark Epstein's What Lips My Lips Have Kissed
I will control myself, or go inside. / I will not flaw perfection with my grief. / Handsome this day: no matter who has died.
These three lines were circled, says Milford, in a notebook found near a bloodstain on the Millay landing. This is the only poetry in Milford's book that might be construed as an epitaphic poem to Eugen. Neither biography includes the rest of the poem. 

2. The two lines that I have cited elsewhere, not in either biography.
The only thing I ever did for you was survive you. / But that was much. 
3. A third poem. 

I'm still looking. 

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