Love is Not All (Sonnet XXX)–Edna St. Vincent Millay
By Norah Christianson
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.
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.
Edna St. Vincent Millay was born in Rockland, Maine, in 1892. She was highly regarded as a poet and dramatist for much of her lifetime. She wrote of love, death and nature, and was the first woman to win a Pulitzer Prize for poetry. She was also a renowned social figure, a noted feminist, and came to personify romantic rebellion and bravado in the 1920s. She spoke her mind freely, upholding freedom and individualism, championing radical and idealistic ideas.
Millay lived an extraordinarily full life. Some would say a wild life. She wrote of herself—
My candle burns at both ends;
It will not last the night;
But ah, my foes, and oh, my friends—
It gives a lovely light!
Millay died at her home in Austerlitz, NY on October 19, 1950, at age 58.
Millay asserts that love is not a basic need, but then she notes that “…many a man is making friends with death…for lack of love alone.” Here, the poem changes perspective. Millay begins speaking in the first person, more intimately. She becomes more uncertain of her former assertions. She then lists possible scenarios in which she might betray her love. But she concludes that, even with all her previous rational arguments, she does not think she would “…sell your love for peace.”
And somehow we know she would not.