Feast Questions and Answers
by Edna St. Vincent Millay

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Explain the meaning of the poem "Feast" by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Relate the poem to the common man if possible.   

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Edna St. Vincent Millay wrote decisively and clearly.  Her poetry speaks to the heart as well as the psyche.  The title of the poem “Feast” suggests a large meal full of tasty foods and drink. This feast does not result in an overabundance or self-indulgence.  It is just the opposite.

The poem is narrated by a first person narrator who might possibly be the author. The use of “I” personalizes the poem and creates a setting of “Once I did this” but “Now I do this.”   To this speaker, it is definitely the thinking about it and the longing for it which is just as important as the actual possession of it.

The form of the poem is three quatrains with a rhyme scheme in every verse of ABAB. Millay’s language comes clearly and distinctly from a psychological vantage point.  Each verse is divided into the first two lines with its message and the second two with an opposing attitude.

1st Stanza

In lines 1-2, the narrator tells the reader that she has drunk wine avariciously; however, the first drink was no different than the last drink that she had. In lines 3-4, the speaker has learned or decided that wine or drink cannot really satisfy her thirst. Her appetites can be satisfied by the desire.   It is the yearning for the drink rather than the drink itself that is the most important part of the equation. 

I came upon no wine.

So wonderful as thirst.

2nd Stanza

Eating voraciously was her passion.  She almost animalistically chewed up anything that she wanted: roots, plants, and fruits.  Yet, the desire or the wanting of something is more powerful to the speaker than the satiation that one gets from the actual eating.

I came upon no fruit
So wonderful as want.

3rd Stanza

The narrator has come to a conclusion. Keep the wine with the vine merchant. The peddler can keep his food.  She prefers to lie down thin and spare with no over indulgence in either of her cravings. As in many things in life, it is the appetite and the desire that are just as fulfilling as the actual experience itself. 

The title of the poem becomes ironically incongruous for the poem. The narrator does not long for the feast.  It is her psychological needs that she wants to be filled. The extraneous wine and food are not necessary if the consumer satisfies himself with the ethereal experience.

The poet may be trying to teach a lesson to those who indulge themselves in anything in life.  Excessiveness can be both physically and mentally debilitating.  Overeating and alcoholism are certainly a part of society that requires daily work.  To be lean and spare as was the poet, requires the self-will to push away from the table and to never take that first drink. 

Sometimes, it is good for the soul to deny one’s needs in order to learn how the person who starves in a third world country feels. This inspires the ordinary person to be thankful for what he has been given.

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