"Love is Not All: It is Not Meat Nor Drink," a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay - Explicated

Essay by hibanks24University, Bachelor'sA+, December 2002

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Love is Not All

"Love is Not All: It is Not Meat Nor Drink," a sonnet by Edna St. Vincent Millay, uses contrast and mood change as an effective tool to consider a thought. The work is similar to Italian or Petrarchan sonnet; it is divided into two parts, an octet followed by a sestet. However the rhythm scheme does not follow the Italian form. In the first portion of the poem the octet is a continuous statement from the first line to the eighth line. The octet has the abab, cdcd, rhythm scheme. The persona conveys what things love is not in the first six lines. The persona states the attributes that love lacks; that it cannot protect, shelter, or nourish the human body. We think we know where the poem is going; then there is a sharp contrast between lines one through six and lines seven and eight.

It is lines seven and eight that are probably the most salient lines in the poem. The lines state:

Yet many a man is making friends with death

Even as I speak, for lack of love alone. (7-8)

Lines one through six have ten syllables each, using iambic pentameter. Line seven has eleven syllables unlike the previous six lines; is this difference intentional? I think that it is; the sonnet takes abrupt turn here, taking the reader in another direction. It is here that we realize the poem has a deeper message. The mood and tone change here; the contrast is palpable. Without love we may suffer a premature death. Without love we are not experiencing the fullness of life. The sonnet follows the Italian form using the octet to raise an issue, with the sestet to resolve or comment on that issue.

In the sestet, lines nine...