The first verse of Edna St. Vincent Millay's poem "Renascence" is as follows:

All I could see from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood;
I turned and looked another way,
And saw three islands in a bay.
So with my eyes I traced the line
Of the horizon, thin and fine,
Straight around till I was come
Back to where I'd started from;
And all I saw from where I stood
Was three long mountains and a wood.

Does this describe a specific real-world location? Perhaps somewhere that the poet actually stood, or somewhere she was familiar with? Can we match "three long mountains and a wood" opposite "three islands in a bay" to any particular place that she might be referring to or inspired by? (Pinpointing locations based on very limited information like this is sometimes possible, so let's see what the Lit SE community can come up with.)

1 Answer 1


It’s usually claimed that Millay was inspired by the view from Mount Battie near Camden, Maine, where she lived as a child. There’s even a plaque attached to a rock near the summit:

Rectangular metal plaque screwed to a rock. Text says, “EDNA ST. VINCENT MILLAY 1892–1950” then quotes the first stanza of ‘Renascence’, then “At the age of eighteen, a frail girl with flaming red hair left her home in early morning to climb her favorite Camden Hills, where so deeply affected by her surroundings, she wrote ‘Renascence.’ The poem received immediate public acclaim and was the inspired beginning of the career of America’s finest lyric poet.”
Photo by Roger W. Sinnott (2010), via the Historical Marker Database.

The claim seems plausible for biographical reasons. ‘Renascence’ was written in 1912, and until she went to Vassar College in 1913, Millay lived in Camden, from whence the summit of Mount Battie is about a mile’s walk:

She spent a great deal of her time out of doors, sometimes on solitary excursions up Mt. Battie or Mt. Megunticook, sometimes on walks or picnics with her sisters or a group of friends. The people of Camden used the mountains constantly as part of the terrain of their daily lives. Bird walks in the early, often pre-dawn, mornings were a favorite summer diversion. They would take breakfast along, stopping to eat on a mountain ledge lit by the first rays of the sun, with the ocean spread out beneath them. In the spring Vincent would lead her friends to Mt. Battie, where her own ramblings had disclosed fields of mayflowers. In autumn, when the whole countryside blazed into flame and gold, the girls walked and climbed almost without end.

Miriam Gurko (1962). Restless Spirit: the Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay, p. 30. New York: T. Y. Crowell.

From the summit of Mount Battie, there are views to other peaks, including Mount Megunticook, Bald Mountain, and Ragged Mountain; and views over Penobscot Bay, which contains many islands. It’s doubtful that Millay intended a specific point from which one can see exactly three mountains and exactly three islands: but rather, for poetic effect she made the mountains and islands parallel in number.

Courtesy of Google Street View, here are three views from the summit of Mount Battie. The first two are from the Memorial Tower, built in 1921 to recognize the casualties of the World War, so post-dating ‘Renascence’.

(i) Looking west across the valley of the Megunticook River (winter).

View from the platform atop a round crenellated stone tower. A downwards slope in the foreground is covered with bare trees. In the distance, under a blue sky, are a range of purple hills, from left to right Spruce Mountain, Ragged Mountain, Little Ragged Mountain, Bald Mountain, and somewhat further away on the right, Hatchet Mountain.

(ii) Looking north to Mount Megunticook (winter).

View from the platform atop a round crenellated stone tower. A plateau is covered in bare trees and rocky outcrops with a dirt road a couple of parked cars. The distant view is blocked by the bulk of a wooded hill whose summit is partly guarded by cliffs.

(iii) Looking east across Penobscot Bay (summer).

View from high up over green wooded slopes to a blue bay. On the coast there is a natural harbour with four white yachts at anchor. Over the bay are many islands disappearing into the distant haze, from left to right Lime Island, Lasell Island, Isle au Haut, North Haven, Saddle Island, Vinalhaven, and Mark Island.


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