Saturday, March 07, 2009

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 cannot 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 need 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 may well be. I do not think I would.

* * *

I don't think I would, either. Love is more practical than people take it for, which I think is definitely a part of what this poem is about. Here's is the question for you, though: is this sonnet romantic, or anti-romantic?

What I like about it (along with everything else) is that it proves that the sonnet is not dead. I do not believe that the sonnet will ever die. Why, I've even caught E. E. Cummings at it! He tried to sneak it by me, but I caught him. I like it when these modern poets do them as if they're not trying, as if the rhymes just happened. They never contort their sentence order or switch between you and thee so that they can rhyme with more things. They just chat away like they were shooting the breeze over the fence, and the next thing you know, there's a sonnet. It takes a lot of work to make it look this easy.


Warren said...

It is both Anti-Romantic and Romantic. It is anti the sort of "soft soap" sentimentalism, and rather strongly for the one sort of romance which is real: The romance of the real. The kind of Love which is constant, continuous, irrevocable, indefatiguable, and which never ends, the kind not even death can conquer. Thus, as the poet says, "I do not think I would" (ever be able to act as if I do not love the one I love).

Sheila said...

Yes! That is exactly what I thought. I find "anti-romantic" poems sometimes to be the most truly romantic at all. While free of schmaltz and sappiness, they talk about true love.