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‘Love Is Not All’ is a sonnet written by Edna St. Vincent Millay. It falls under her collection of poems and is titled ‘Sonnet XXX’. It is a poem stark in contrast with its title for it seemingly shuns love only to reverse its stance towards the very end.
About the Poet:
Edna St. Vincent Millay (1892-1950) was a prominent American poet and playwright. She was the recipient of the Pulitzer Prize in the year 1923. Famous works of hers include ‘Renascence’, ‘The Ballad of Harp Weaver’, and ‘Second April’.
The theme of this sonnet is love. The persona talks about love is not necessary for survival per se but is something the persona chooses and not wishes to let go nevertheless.
This poem, as sonnets follow, has 14 rhyming lines written in iambic pentameter. It is a blend of both the Shakespearean and Petrarchan sonnet. It can be divided into three quatrains and a rhyming couplet as deemed by Shakespeare, following its rhyme scheme abab cdcd efef gg. However, it also can be divided into an octave and a sestet as per a Petrarchan sonnet as well.
Love is not all: it is not meat nor drink Nor slumber nor a roof against the rain; Nor yet a floating spar to men that sink And rise and sink and rise and sink again; 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.
The poet persona begins by stating the title- ‘love is not all’. They proceed to substantiate this statement by pointing out how love is not food or water, which are what are the necessities for survival. Neither is it shelter required by humans nor is a floating spar that would save drowning people in the sea. Love is not air and not blood. It cannot mend fractured bones miraculously either. Love is hence not something required for one to live. Yet, men give their life up merely because they couldn’t attain love.
It well may be that in a difficult hour, Pinned down by pain and moaning for release, Or nagged by want past resolution's power, 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.
The persona moves on to ponder here. They state that in a difficult situation, in anguish seeking to alleviate their misery, they might sell their love for peace of mind. Or, they might even trade the memory of a night spent with their lover in exchange for food. However, in the very end, they state that they didn’t think they would, thus stating that despite how pointless love might appear to be, they still would not choose a life without it.
This is an excellent poem that leads on the readers to believe that love is a triviality not needed by humans only to reverse this notion towards the end. No matter how frivolous can tend to me, the persona would still choose it as life without love would not be one that is wholesome.