Love Is Not All

Poets must utilize many tools and techniques to create a mood or convey a
thought. Metaphor, simile, spacing, form, voice, and setting are all common
poetic utilities. Some tools, however, are more understated. Some of the more
delicate methods used by poets are rhythm, language, and the consistency of the
theme throughout the poem. One work that makes use of inconsistent theme is Edna
St. Vincent Millays sonnet “Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat nor Drink”
(page 936). This poem uses indirect theme and abrupt change in message to add
more emphasis the meaning of the poem. By beginning the poem with an image that
contrasts the main theme, the poet is able to inflict a more vivid impression on
the reader. Even the title of Millays sonnet gives us an idea of what the
poems theme is likely to be. “Love is not all” suggests that the persona
is decrying love. It prepares the reader for a put-down of love and all things
romantic. Millay proceeds to use a group of anti-similes that declare what love
is not; “it is not meat nor drink,” therefor we presumably can not live
without it. Love will not refresh you or protect you from the elements, as it is
not “slumber nor a roof against the rain.” She then relates love to “a
floating spar to men that sink,” stating that it will not support you in times
of disaster. The entire first six lines generally knock love by declaring it
useless and unsubstantial. After reading this the reader jumps to the conclusion
that they know what Millays message is. The turning point of the poem is the
seventh line. “Yet many a man is making friends with death / Even as I speak,
for lack of love alone” contradicts everything the reader is led to believe
thus far. The following lines are equally contrary to the initial message. They
state that though love may not be absolutely necessary, life is hardly worth
living without it. The persona states that though in a time of “nagging by
want past resolutions power” she could trade her lovers affection for a
moment of relief, she doubts that she would. This change of message is one of
the more delicate and indirect tools used to drive a point home to the reader.


If we simply read the last sestet of the poem, the message seems trivial and
mundane. The persona wouldnt trade her love for anything. So what. It has no
emphasis, and lacks voice. The reader is left with no lasting impression.

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However, when read with the first octet included, the poem takes on a new
importance. The sudden contrast in mood and theme catches the readers
attention. Contrast is used in all forms of art and imagery. Visual artists use
contrasting colors and light and dark to make an image more independent and
defined. When held to a dark backdrop, a white object appears much more vivid
than it would against a light backdrop. A soft melody proceeding a loud
crescendo is often used by musicians to make the latter even more impressive and
overwhelming. Millays use of contrast in this poem punctuates the message in
a similar manner. The last line jumps upon the reader with emphasis. To create
this emphasis, she employs inconsistent line structure and rhyme scheme in
addition to the theme change. Throughout the sonnet, the lines are long and full
of many-syllable words. The final line, however, is very simple. It contains
single syllable words, and uses no figurative language. “It well may be. I do
not think I would” simply states the message. The prolific use of figurative
speech earlier in the sonnet to state the opposing thought makes this line more
memorable and powerful. This line does not fit into the rhyme scheme of the
sonnet, either. Lines one through twelve follow the standard scheme of abab.


Lines thirteen and fourteen, however, dont rhyme. Millay breaks away from the
rest of the poem, giving the last lines independence. These techniques combine
with the change in message to embed the theme deep into the readers mind.


Contrast is a very effective tool in poetry. Just as clever metaphor and
innuendo catch the readers attention and emphasize a point more
authoritatively than simple statement; contrast leaves a thought with a reader
long after they have read the poem. Millay utilizes several forms of contrast in
“Love Is Not All,” the result being a poem that expresses distinctly that
love is indeed all.