I don't understand the bolded phrases in "Love is not blind" by Edna St. Vincent Millay:

Love is not blind. I see with single eye
Your ugliness and other women's grace.
I know the imperfection of your face,
The eyes too wide apart, the brow too high
For beauty. Learned from earliest youth am I
In loveliness, and cannot so erase
Its letters from my mind, that I may trace
You faultless, I must love until I die.
More subtle is the sovereignty of love:
So am I caught that when I say, "Not fair,"
'Tis but as if I said, "Not here—not there
Not risen--not writing letters.
" Well I know
What is this beauty men are babbling of;
I wonder only why they prize it so.

When she says "not fair" about her beloved ("he or she is not beautiful"), it is as if she said: "Not here--not there / Not risen—not writing letters". But what could this mean?

She "catches" herself at some observation, but I don't understand this.


It is merely a series of disjointed observations, which have nothing to do with the totality of her woman friend's beauty.

She is not fair here. She is not fair there. She is not fair when she first gets up in the morning. She is not fair when she is writing letters.

This sort of "beauty", which men babble about and prize so highly, is merely a "local" effect, unlike the enduring value which the poet perceives.

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    I think I've understood what you mean by totality. "x is not fair" is a statement of the same order as "x isn't here, x isn't there, x isn't out of bed yet, x isn't writing letters", that is, statements of merely incidental fact that do not go to the essence of x. – Tᴚoɯɐuo Dec 25 '15 at 20:02
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    @TRomano - Sorta. If you catch me saying "She's not fair" all I mean is things like "Her eyes are too far apart" or (to quote another treament of the same theme) "Her eyes are nothing like the sun". That's the worthless "beauty men are babbling of", which has nothing to do with the loveliness revealed by the "sovereignty of love". – StoneyB on hiatus Dec 25 '15 at 21:04

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