Feast

I drank at every vine.
The last was like the first.
I came upon no wine
So wonderful as thirst.

I gnawed at every root.
I ate of every plant.
I came upon no fruit
So wonderful as want.

Feed the grape and bean
To the vintner and monger:
I will lie down lean
With my thirst and my hunger.

Footnotes

  1. Just as the meter and rhyme scheme create in the reader a felt experience of unsatisfied want, so too does the overall leanness of the poem. “Feast” is just three brief stanzas of spare diction, stripped of unnecessary adjectives and descriptions. Its form is a reflection of its own philosophy. It is also a vehicle for an experience of leanness and hunger in the reader, who likely expects a poem entitled “Feast” to deliver more.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  2. The narrator’s choice to single out the “vintner”—a wine merchant—and “monger”—a trader— creates a subtle class distinction. Having arrived at an elevated philosophical state, the narrator leaves “the grape and bean” to those of the working class. While the gesture may be metaphorical, it nonetheless reveals a tone of superiority.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  3. The word “lean” bears multiple registers. The narrator has accepted a state of leanness, of unfulfilled hunger. The word also points to “lean” in the verb form, evoking the feeling of leaning. This leaning accompanies the “lying down,” and contributes to the state of surrender that characterizes the third stanza.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  4. Millay alters the meter in the final stanza, shifting to a catalectic trimeter. A catalectic line is one in which the first and last syllables are stressed. This gives the lines a more authoritative tone. The tonal shift makes sense in the context of the poem: the narrator has arrived at a position of acceptance, owning the “thirst and hunger.”

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  5. The slant rhyme between “plant” and “want” effectively brings out the poem’s central theme: the experience of unmet desire. Just as the narrator delights in the fruit of “want,” the reader “wants” the stanza to resolve. Because “want” does not quite rhyme with “plant,” the word “want” rather fittingly leaves us wanting.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  6. Millay wrote “Feast” in iambic trimeter: three beats per line, with a fluctuating rhythm between unstressed and stressed syllables. The trimeter line is so much shorter than the classic pentameter line that it leaves the reader with a feeling of breathlessness. One arrives at the end of the line wanting and expecting more. That feeling of unsatisfied desire is the very theme of the poem.

    — Zachary, Owl Eyes Staff
  7. Notice the tonal shift in the second stanza, despite the way the language imitates the first. While the narrator says the “The last [drink] was like the first” to suggest repetition, here she focuses on the inability of all of her experiences to fulfill her desires. She has tried every fruit and every root, and yet none of them live up to her expectations. While the first stanza states her experience, this stanza communicates her frustration with the resulting feeling of lack.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  8. Even though many of the lines largely repeat the first stanza, the images within the second stanza are more grotesque. “Root” connotes dirt, stooping to the ground, and digging. “Gnawed” communicates an animalistic quality, a sense of persistent, anxious action. This change in imagery communicates the narrator’s increasing desperation.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  9. The narrator of this poem seems to be experienced in fulfilling whatever desire these images signify and comes to the realization that fulfilment is not fulfilling. The more one experiences, the more empty these experiences feel. Thus, the narrator decides to revel in the longing rather than seek to fulfill it.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  10. The desire that this poem explores can be interpreted in multiple ways. Literally, the narrator is talking about drinking wine and eating fruit. However, metaphorically these images could represent ambition, sexual desire, and experience in general.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  11. In this metaphor, “thirst” represents the longing for drink and “wine” represents the fulfillment of that desire. The narrator claims that “no wine” is as great as the experience of “thirst” to suggest that longing is more fulfilling than the actual fulfillment of desire.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff
  12. This acknowledgement that the first drink she had was the same as the last suggests that once something is experienced it does not change. One cannot improve experiences or relive experiences simply by repeating them. The tone of this acknowledgement is resigned; the narrator does not seem angry that the “drinks” are repetitive.

    — Caitlin, Owl Eyes Staff