An Examination of the Complexities of Love in Millay's Poem, Love Is Not All
[Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink]
Edna St. Vincent Millay
It is said that Millay's later work is more of a mirror image of her life. This particular poem was written 1931, when she was thirty-nine. Unlike some of her earlier work this is not a humorous poem. It is very deep and meaningful.
This is a complex poem. She even began with a complex idea, love. What exactly is love? Is it a feeling, an emotion that no one has control of? Is love something you can feel or touch? Some say it is not something that you can feel or touch, but you are well aware when love touches you, because you can feel it. It is an emotion that causes pleasure and pain. In this poem, Millay
is showing how complex love is. The first half is about what love cannot do. Love is not a lifesaver, shelter, or a doctor. The second half
is about the power of love
. Even though love is not tangible, is it as important as something that is? Millay seems to be coming from the idea that love is not everything, but it is important. A question is raised, is love necessary for survival?
Millay uses romantic language. That is evident in the first line, "Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink". The romantic aspect of love is shown in the language of this poem. The poem is not directly about two lovers. It is more indirect, this is what two lovers may face. Her language is picturesque. "Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink / And rise and sink and rise and sink again;" It is as if the poem was showing a picture of a man in the sea that is struggling to survive and throughout the course of bobbing up and down he continues to see a pole or paddle, but he just can't reach it. There are more ideas that can be pictured easily throughout the poem, because of the language that Millay uses. "Love can no fill the thickened lung with breath, / Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone;" These lines create an interesting picture in your mind. This shows that love is no capable of certain things.
By reading this poem you see the picture Millay is describing. It is as if love is either a blessing or a curse, or both. Such a wrenching emotion. Love is so powerful and rewarding, but it is not all one needs to survive. Or is it? So what is the choice, love or no love? "Or trade the memory of this night for food. / It well may be. Ido not think I would." What does Millay choose?
Millay's poem is filled with many different questions and meanings. After reading this poem different times, one seems to get so much more out of it. Millay may have had that in mind when writing such a universal poem. Was that her goal? These questions can only be decided by the reader. Millay left the answers to them.