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Analysis of The Poem "Love is not All: It is not Meat Or Drink"

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Analysis of The Poem "Love is not All: It is not Meat Or Drink" essay

Poetry uses forms and conventions to suggest different interpretation to words, or to evoke intense responses. Poem is a piece of writing that partakes the nature of speech that is rhythmical usually metaphorical, and often exhibits such formal elements as meter, rhyme, and stanzaic structure. The written words in a poem express ideas or emotions in a powerful vivid and imaginative style. In fact, emotion is the control force behind poems. The poem I have chosen to describe is “Love is Not All: It Is Not Meat or Drink” by Edna St. Vincent Millay.

“Love is Not All,” written by Edna St. Vincent Millay, depicted its speaker carefully contemplating the actual value of love in one’s life. Millay displayed the development of the speaker’s stance on the subject through a combination of poetic devices and stylistic features. The poem is written as a sonnet with one stanza containing fourteen lines of iambic pentameter. Millay organized the poem in such a way to illustrate to the reader the speaker’s thought process. As during the first six lines, or sestet, the speaker expressed pessimistic views regarding the inadequacies of love that is abruptly met with a sudden transition to a final sestet in which the speaker considered the value that love has in the speaker’s personal life.

Millay chose to set her poem up as a Shakespearean sonnet. Sonnet is a poem of fourteen lines that are written in iambic pentameter, which use one of many rhyme schemes and adhere to a tightly structured thematic organization. There are two models from which sonnets are formed: the Petrarchan and the Shakespearean. Shakespearean, or known as an English sonnet, follows a different set of rules. Here, three quatrains and a couplet follow this rhyme scheme: abab, cdcd, efef, gg. The couplet plays a pivotal role, usually arriving in the conclusion form, amplification, or even refutation of the previous three stanzas, creating an epiphanic quality to the end. It has 14 lines and a designated rhyme scheme that includes a signature couplet. Millay exudes a negative feeling of what love is not. “Love can not fill the thickened lung with breath/ Nor clean the blood, nor set the fractured bone, Yet many a man is making friends with death, Even as I speak, for lack of love alone” In the first six lines, the poet provides a negative definition of what love is not, ending with a transition that is somewhat startling: Without love, one “is making friends with death” This change causes the reader to stop suddenly to contemplate the clipped irony of the close of the octave. The negative feeling, as seen in these three lines, has very bold metaphors to convey that negativity to the listener. This is a deep difference to the last eight lines of the poem where she brings up a new line of thought for the listener to consider. This sudden switch of emotion about love makes the listener take the time to appreciate the irony of the difference of her original statement. The sonnet’s last six lines, Millay begins to wonder if she would sell love for food or the love’s memory for mental clarity. “I might be driven to sell your love for peace, / or trade the memory of this night for food. / It well may be, I do not think I would,” these lines specify doubt that she would ever trade love for anything. These particular lines offer a resolution to the sonnet, but still leaves doubt lingering on the end of whether she would be willing to sell love in any form. The sonnet ends on a surprisingly ambiguous note expressing deep doubts; the poet can say, “I do not think I would,” but she cannot say with certainty that she would not. The poems end is an empirical message addressing the question of depth, importance, and transitory nature of love. The poem “Love is Not All” by Edna St. Vincent Millay speaks about an young female who does not believe in the love’s power. The poem speaks about the author’s experience and her thought about love.

“Love is Not All” takes us through Millay’s view of love and the things love cannot provide. This view is emphasized by the use of poetic devices, including rhyme, repetition and alliteration. “Love Is Not All” takes the form of a sonnet, is a Shakespearean ancestral sonnet with fourteen lines of rhymed imbic pentameter. The structure, meter, and rhyme scheme are all conventional. It consists of three quatrains and a couplet at the end. This poem is a contemplation by the speaker on all the ways in which humans suffer for love. Metaphor is a figure of speech that, for rhetorical effect, directly refers to one thing by mentioning another. In lines “Pinned down by pain, nagged by want, or driven to sell your love” The only one who can pin down, nag and drive is a human or person. In the poem pain, desire, and love are compared to the doing of a human by common activity. For example, pain cannot pin down something, and desire or want cannot nag to someone. Another example is in lines “I might be driven to sell your love for peace, or trade the memory of this night for food.” Millay could not “sell” the person’s love that is addressed for “peace” or trade the “memory” of the night she spent with that person for “food”. She uses metaphor to show, if she could make impossible exchanges, she would not. In lines “Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink, and rise and sink and rise and sink again.” Millary is comparing love to something physically critical to human survival, a “spar.” In this comparison, it is something a man on a sinking ship would want desperately as a way to reinforce his damaged vessel. Love would do him little good at this critical moment. Dictation consists of the language that the writer chooses to express a specific message. The words in lines “meat” “drink” “slumber” and “roof”, the author uses to compare the basic necessities of life. These are the important basic necessities to survive in our daily life. Irony is the use of words to convey a meaning that is the opposite of its literal meaning. “Love is not all” The author believes that love is not everything, love cannot save you from hunger or thirst, live cannot keep you alive, love cannot heal you from any problem that you have. “I might be driven to sell your love for peace, or trade the memory of this night for food, it well may be, I do not think I would.” No matter what the author explains or believes about love, there is time when she is in trouble, she must say she might sell her love for peace or trade her memory of that night for food, whereas she says that love is not everything, love is nothing. The author needs love to save her life. Imagery is shown in the lines “Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink and rise and sink and rise and sink again.” Millay uses imagery to thoroughly communicate the struggle to her reader. Through her words, an image is conjured in the mind of her audience of a man struggling for breath in an unfathomably treacherous body of water.

In the first eight lines of Millay’s sonnet, she points out all that love cannot do. These are things that are critical to human survival. They plainly contrast with the emotion of love, something that Millay is hoping to call attention to. She is attempting to learn loves importance by comparing to things one physically cannot live without. Love is neither food nor sleep. Love cannot shelter a person. Love cannot heal; Millay stresses each incurable ailment by repeating the letter “B” in “breath, blood, bone” Through the repetition of “not,” and “nor,” the speaker creates a disparaging tone that not only counsel love is incapable of providing the basic necessities of life, but that it is also inconsequential and nonessential. The negative form and the arguments pile on the listener, creating a compelling picture of why love is unnecessary. Then, Millay abruptly stops using the negative. Millay’s speaker creates a “turn” in the poem’s meaning at the end of the octave, implying that despite love’s inability to sustain life or provide the survival necessitates, it may actually be more valuable than life itself. After defining what love is not in the first six lines of the octave, the poet uses the word “yet” to introduce the turn and thereby shift the meaning of the poem. In saying, “yet many a man is making friends with death / Even as I speak, for lack of love alone”. In fact, the use of “yet” introduces that love must be of some value, especially since so many people risk their lives to attain it. The speaker creates doubt within her own opinion that love deficits value. The switch draws attention to these two lines, which emphasizes that perhaps love is more important than bodily comfort. After defining love by what it cannot do, the speaker implies that it at least has the power to compel men to perish for it, and this suggests that perhaps love is more valuable than she originally thought. At some period of time, I believe everyone has been through a rough time with love. This reason is why Millay’s sonnet can resonate with so many different people.

The ending of the sonnet is the best part to me. She spoke of how she was “pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution’s power,” yet she wants to hang on to the intense love she has experienced. We all want to be loved and once we have felt that love; we do not ever want to be without it. Through the ambiguity of the phrase “It may well be,” the speaker emphasizes her ambivalence toward the value of love throughout the sestet; however, until the unexpected her ambivalence is not fully emphasized. This sonnet can resonate on many levels with many different people. The many types of love can be symbolized from the long feeling of needing a loved one. For Millay, I think she was describing her lover. She may be compelled to sell love or trade her memories of it in order to survive.

In the poem’s conclusion, the speaker states that “It may well be. I do not think I would.” That in order to survive she would not sell or trade her love, but her ambiguous statement of “I do not think I would” casts some doubt over whether she would exchange love for life. By stating that she does not believe that she would sell or trade love in order to survive, the speaker reveals that even though she may define the value of love in an objective way for others, she cannot define it for herself, thus revealing her ambivalence toward it. This symbolizes the push and pull on Millay’s heart. She may need other things than love to survive, but she just cannot give up the memory of her true love. The reader is made aware of the speaker’s ambivalent tone toward the value of love and is led to understand in the sonnet’s end that love is perhaps more valuable than life itself.

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Analysis Of The Poem “Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat Or Drink”. (2022, February 09). GradesFixer. Retrieved December 5, 2022, from
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