Study Guide

First Fig Gender

By Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Edna St. Vincent Millay was a voracious lover of both women and men. Perhaps that's why many critics take "First Fig" as her attempt to proclaim upon her literary talent and her love life in one breath. The wonderful thing about metaphor is that you can get words to work overtime, creating multiple meanings in one short phrase. A candle that burns at both ends? That could be a way of thinking about a woman who delights in women and men. That raises a problem, because why would bisexuality mean that the speaker would burn out quicker than other lovers? Could it be the stigma attached to homosexuality in the early twentieth century? Millay herself gives us no answers, which, we're guessing, is part of her intention.

Questions About Gender

  1. Do you think that "burning the candle at both ends" could be a declaration of sexual preference?
  2. Why do you think that bisexuality might be more complicated than heterosexuality or homosexuality for the speaker? 
  3. If this poem is thinking through gender, why do you think it doesn't do so explicitly? Why resort to metaphor?

Chew on This

Millay's cryptic reference to her sexuality in "First Fig" makes it clear that having an exciting love is more important than a single love. No settlin' down for this poet.

By discussing her gender metaphorically, Millay's speaker is able to convey some of the complications of her own sexual preferences.

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