Love is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay: Poem Analysis

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The poem “Love is Not All” by Edna St. Vincent Millay was written about the idea of love not being one of our basic needs of living. In her poem she makes it clear that love does not help us to breathe. Love does not help fulfill our hunger. And love does not help heal just a simple broken bone in our bodies. Although all of these things I agree with, there is more to love than just our basic needs of living. But, I am not here to talk about that. I am here to talk about the behind the scenes of her poem. First and foremost, this poem falls into the category of a sonnet. With a sonnet being a complete thought expressed into fourteen lines written in iambic pentameter, this poem falls right into that category. The rhyme scheme of this poem goes a little bit like this –– A, B, A, B, C, D, C, D, E, F, E, F, G, H.

Most of the poem has a consistent end rhyme, but the last two lines are consisted of a type of slant rhyme. Not only does this characteristic fit with the type of poem, but it keeps you intrigued on how it will end. Because this is a sonnet, there is only one stanza consisting of 14 lines, as well as the breaks and shapes being constant and staying the same. When it comes to diction and syntax of the words and phrases used in the poem, I think everything is grammatically correct and all appropriate for the main idea of her poem. The poem’s main idea is to make the reader aware of the true underlying meaning of how we can survive without love. One of the main focus’ that I mentioned earlier is the idea that love cannot fulfill our huger, heal an injury, or help us breathe.

To start off, the first line of the poem Millay begins to tell us all of our obvious basic needs of life. Aside from that, her use of words and imagery gives us insight to the unimportance of love in order to live. She makes it clear to us that “Love is not all:” (line 1). By this, we can depict that it is some-thing, but not all of what we need in life. She mentions it is not the food or drink we need to survive, it is not the roofs we hold over our heads to keep warm or safe against the weather, and it is not what keeps our lungs inflating. She writes about the fact that love will not heal our sicknesses, it will not heal our broken bones, and it will not “heal slumber” as an example of helping us rest and prevent exhaustion.

Although she makes a point that all of these things are what love is not, her words “Yet many a man is making friends with death / Even as I speak, for lack of love alone” tells us that there are the good and important things of love and the further you are away from it, the closer you are to death and loneliness. In my eyes, I think this line contradicts everything she has said so far in her poem, but it also shows that love cannot heal or help us live in any need or physical way, but in other words the idea that life is not worth living if you don’t have love. She tells us it is something unimportant towards our basic needs of living, but it is not something anyone should run away from or avoid, and it is not something anybody should live without.

In this deeply meaningful poem, I noticed that the way she wrote the first line including the punctuation, that she is not just giving us an obvious lesson, but giving us her definition about what she really means by her first four words, “Love is not all:” (line 1). After breaking this poem apart, I can say that there is a huge difference in what the poet is explaining in her own words, versus what she is indirectly suggesting or implying us to understand. Although she says all of these things that love is not and what it cannot do, she created sort of an anti-climatic poem by switching from all of the things love is not to her decision between love and life itself. The last part of her poem says “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” (lines 12-14).

Finally at the end we can officially know what she is implying to us in the poem. Her final thoughts on love not being all we need in life are revealed that even if she would die of thirst or hunger or no more air in her lungs, her life would not be worth living if she did not have love incorporated in it. Overall, as many times as I have said it already, the theme of this poem is the idea that love may not help us in our basic needs of living or being healthy on this Earth, but the idea that we would live a life of regret and bore if we choose our needs over a life that includes love.

Works Cited

  1. Millay, Edna St. Vincent. “Love Is Not All.” ​PoemHunter.com​, 13 Jan. 2003, www.poemhunter.com/poem/love-is-not-all/.
  2. “Online Etymology Dictionary.” ​Index​, www.etymonline.com/.
  3. Purdue Writing Lab. “MLA Formatting and Style Guide // Purdue Writing Lab.”
  4. Purdue Writing Lab​, owl.purdue.edu/owl/research_and_citation/mla_style/mla_formatting_and_style_guide/m la_formatting_and_style_guide.html.

Cite this paper

Love is Not All by Edna St. Vincent Millay: Poem Analysis. (2021, Sep 20). Retrieved from https://samploon.com/love-is-not-all-by-edna-st-vincent-millay-poem-analysis/

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