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 addmore emphasis the meaning of the poem. By beginning the poem with an image thatcontrasts the main theme, the poet is able to inflict a more vivid impression onthe reader. Even the title of Millays sonnet gives us an idea of what thepoems theme is likely to be.
“Love is not all” suggests that the personais decrying love. It prepares the reader for a put-down of love and all thingsromantic. Millay proceeds to use a group of anti-similes that declare what loveis not; “it is not meat nor drink,” therefor we presumably can not livewithout it. Love will not refresh you or protect you from the elements, as it isnot “slumber nor a roof against the rain. ” She then relates love to “afloating spar to men that sink,” stating that it will not support you in timesof disaster.
The entire first six lines generally knock love by declaring ituseless and unsubstantial. After reading this the reader jumps to the conclusionthat they know what Millays message is. The turning point of the poem is theseventh 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 believethus far. The following lines are equally contrary to the initial message.
Theystate that though love may not be absolutely necessary, life is hardly worthliving without it. The persona states that though in a time of “nagging bywant past resolutions power” she could trade her lovers affection for amoment of relief, she doubts that she would. This change of message is one ofthe 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 andmundane. The persona wouldnt trade her love for anything. So what.
It has noemphasis, and lacks voice. The reader is left with no lasting impression. However, when read with the first octet included, the poem takes on a newimportance. The sudden contrast in mood and theme catches the readersattention. Contrast is used in all forms of art and imagery.
Visual artists usecontrasting colors and light and dark to make an image more independent anddefined. When held to a dark backdrop, a white object appears much more vividthan it would against a light backdrop. A soft melody proceeding a loudcrescendo is often used by musicians to make the latter even more impressive andoverwhelming. Millays use of contrast in this poem punctuates the message ina similar manner. The last line jumps upon the reader with emphasis. To createthis emphasis, she employs inconsistent line structure and rhyme scheme inaddition to the theme change.
Throughout the sonnet, the lines are long and fullof many-syllable words. The final line, however, is very simple. It containssingle syllable words, and uses no figurative language. “It well may be. I donot think I would” simply states the message. The prolific use of figurativespeech earlier in the sonnet to state the opposing thought makes this line morememorable and powerful.
This line does not fit into the rhyme scheme of thesonnet, either. Lines one through twelve follow the standard scheme of abab. Lines thirteen and fourteen, however, dont rhyme. Millay breaks away from therest of the poem, giving the last lines independence.
These techniques combinewith 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 andinnuendo catch the readers attention and emphasize a point moreauthoritatively than simple statement; contrast leaves a thought with a readerlong 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 thatlove is indeed all.