After her parents’ divorce, Edna St. Vincent Millay was raised by her mother — a private duty nurse who struggled to make ends meet. But despite her lack of funds, she gave Edna and her sisters a life filled with poetry, literature and music.
Encouraged by her mother, Millay embraced the writing life at a young age. Even in her youth, she was a prolific writer and won her first poetry award from a children’s literary magazine. It wouldn’t be her last. In 1923, she won the newly created Pulitzer Prize for Poetry.
Millay had a reputation as a passionate feminist, and much of her writing deals with the theme of romantic love. For today’s inspiration, we’re looking at one of her poems that speaks to our constant need for love despite its many inadequacies. It’s a poem titled, “Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat Nor Drink.”
LOVE IS NOT ALL: IT IS NOT MEAT NOR DRINK
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.
FOR ADDITIONAL READING: See Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford
More nuggets for today:
On this today in 1885, Mark Twain published his defining work, Adventures of Huckleberry Finn in the U.S.
Although he published it after The Adventures of Tom Sawyer, Huckleberry Finn is widely regarded as the more serious and sophisticated of the two books.
The setting for the book is the Antebellum South. Twain wrote it using a dialect full of coarse styles of speech and colorful descriptions of the people who traveled the Mississippi. It was an intentional decision on his part, and a critique on the entrenched racism that pervaded the nation.
The book was controversial and many libraries banned it. An article in the Boston Transcript newspaper said:
“The Concord (Mass.) Public Library committee has decided to exclude Mark Twain’s latest book from the library. One member of the committee says that, while he does not wish to call it immoral, he thinks it contains little humor, and that of a very coarse type. He regards it as the veriest trash. The library and the other members of the committee entertain similar views, characterizing it as rough, coarse, and inelegant, dealing with a series of experiences not elevating, the whole book being more suited to the slums than to intelligent, respectable people.”
Twain’s peers criticized it, too, mostly for the same reasons. Louisa May Alcott said that if Twain, “couldn’t think of something better to tell our pure-minded lads and lasses he had best stop writing for them”.
But later generations of writers and critics had a very different view of Huckleberry Finn. In fact, it’s now considered the first great American novel, leading Ernest Hemingway to say:
“All modern American literature comes from one book by Mark Twain called Huckleberry Finn.”
Like many writers, it’s fair to say that Twain’s spirituality played a role in his writing and the thematic elements found in Huckleberry Finn. Twain was a Presbyterian, but he was critical of organized religion and the hypocrisy he saw in many people. Yet he constantly wrestled with God and practiced a personal faith, attended church and engaged in charitable works.
Today is also the birthday of another writer, Toni Morrison, in 1931.
She was born Chloe Ardelia Woffard, but took the name of Saint Anthony of Padua when she converted to Catholicism at the age of 12. From then on, she dropped her birth name and went by the name Toni.
Although Morrison was an academic by trade, she started writing fiction at Howard University and went on to write 10 novels and 7 non-fiction books, winning the Nobel Prize in Literature in 1993.
As a writer, Morrison often returned to the themes of community and identity in her novels. In 2012, the writer and social critic, Cornel West, compared Morrison to the Catholic activist, Dorothy Day. West said:
“Dorothy reminds me in so many ways of Toni Morrison. You know Toni Morrison is Catholic. Many people do not realize that she is one of the great Catholic writers. Like Flannery O’Connor, she has an incarnational conception of human existence. We Protestants are too individualistic. I think we need to learn from Catholics who are always centered on community.”
Finally, our word of wisdom for today come to us from the Polish-American rabbi and philosopher, Abraham Joshua Heschel. He said:
“When I was young, I used to admire intelligent people; as I grow older, I admire kind people.”
I think that’s good advice. If you want to earn someone’s admiration today, being kind is probably a good place to start.
And that’s today’s Spiritual Almanac.
For additional reading, see Savage Beauty: The Life of Edna St. Vincent Millay by Nancy Milford.
A Spiritual Almanac is a production of Granola Soul. You can find the complete transcript of today’s episode, Edna St. Vincent Millay’s poem, “Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat Nor Drink” and other resources at our website, www.GranolaSoul.com.
Thanks for listening. Until next time, be kind, take good care and I’ll see you tomorrow.
“Love Is Not All: It Is Not Meat Nor Drink” by Edna St. Vincent Millay. Public domain.
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