‘First Fig’ – Edna St.Vincent Millay

[  # 80 of My Favourite Short Poems  ]


Edna St. Vincent Millay was an American poet and playwright who was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892.  I have used a short poem of  hers before in this series – in November of 2017, q.v. . . .    ‘What Lips My Lips Have Kissed’ .

This poem is even shorter, but I find that it does have a  lot to say, about her own lifestyle and about the times and the milieu which she inhabited in her heyday in 1920s New York.   Millay titled the book in which this poem was published A Few Figs From Thistles, and this poem was the first one in the book, hence ‘First Fig’.

The poem is highly symbolic and the opening line plunges the reader into that arresting metaphor which she uses to describe her wild, bohemian, certainly unorthodox spirit.   The second line, however, recognises the ephemeral nature of such an existence with the bitter-sweet ‘It will not last the night’.  She is acknowledging that brightness is not all, a candle burning simultaneously from both ends will burn twice as quickly and such hedonistic times will not last.


Figs from Thistles: First Fig


My candle burns at both ends;

   It will not last the night;

But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—

   It gives a lovely light!


2-ended candle



8 thoughts on “‘First Fig’ – Edna St.Vincent Millay

  1. Thank you for sharing this, Roland. I believe I have my father’s collection of her poetry at our other house. That makes me sound rich! No, I’m not. It’s a long story. But anyway, my next project there is to go through my books so that I can move them here to my small apartment. I hope I’m right about having my father’s copy of Millay’s poems. Your post filled me with the hope that it is so. And, now, after your post, I’m more inclined to read them. Over the weekend, I posted a blog entry of the first poem I wrote when I was eight years old. Maybe one day I’ll get back to writing more poetry. I enjoy visiting you website, as time permits.


      • Thanks, Roland! Your posting sent me off reading about Millay online. Gosh, she died so young. Perhaps the intense life she led and the painkillers? I think I know where my dad’s book is. I look forward to having it here with me. My poem is on my website, on the homepage at the bottom, and will not be sent out by email because my poems and essays are so off topic from my other writing. But I do let my subscribers know about my other posts in my newsletter. Thank for your interest. Best to you, Roland.


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