What are the summary and literary theme of Edna St. Vincent-Millay's sonnet "love is not all: it is not meat nor drink"?
I am writing an analytical essay on this sonnet and would like some idea as to what it is about.
In this sonnet, St. Vincent Millay discusses the meaning and purpose of love. I know it seems obvious (especially since most sonnets deal with that issue), but the way she approaches it is unique and striking. At first, she seems to suggest that most people think too much of love. After all, it is "not meat or drink"- it can't keep you alive. It won't save you if you're drowning, and so it cannot be what you base your existence upon. However, she quickly reverses this idea by stating that without love, one “is making friends with death.” Thus, while love can't keep you alive, without it you will almost surely die. At this point, the speaker begins to question if she would be willing to trade love for life’s necessities. Would she sell love’s memory for food? The sonnet ends with ambiguity; the speaker merely says, “I do not think I would”. There is no real certainty there.
The theme of this poem is quite simply that one may rely on love in life, but may be force to give it up to seek material survival. It is not clear whether or not she supports one scenario over the over, and again, that ambiguity is essential to her reflections on the meaning of love. The problem of course, is that love is not all, even though we want it to be. The central question of the poem becomes: how do we balance this need for love with our need to survive? That is why the poem's structure is so important. St. Vincent Millay gives the reader an ironic twist, slowly revealing that there is no right or wrong answer to the question.