‘Love is not all’ by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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.

I really like this sonnet. It speaks about how intangible, and how hard to define love is. And how strange love seems, when described in this way. Love is nothing solid, it is “not meat or drink”; it’s not necessary for the sustaining of our human life. It does not nourish the body or protect it from the elements or mend broken bones… But then love, the poem reminds us, has an incredible power over us. The lack of love can tempt us to make “friends with death”. Even in the most “difficult hour”, when she is “Pinned down by pain and moaning for release”, the poet tells us that she “might be driven to sell your [the person she is addressing in the poem] love for peace”, or trade her memories of “this night” of love “for food”. And then she concludes the poem by affirming, “It well may be. I do not think I would”. I think this ending is so great because it illustrates how we are all illogical when it comes to love. For lack of love some of us will court death — we feel that we could die of a broken heart — and yet if faced with death we would not exchange the moments of intense love to save our bodies. I say we are all like that… I think most of us are!

Reviewed by Emily Ardagh