‘I can not live v You’ is among Emily Dickinson’s most well known poems, however like lot of her biggest poetry, the eludes any type of easy or straightforward analysis. Somewhat unusually amongst Dickinson’s most celebrated poems, ‘I can not live with You’ is a love poem – yet it is far from a conventional one.

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I cannot live through You –It would certainly be Life –And Life is over there –Behind the Shelf

The Sexton keeps the vital to –Putting upOur Life – His Porcelain –Like a Cup –


Discarded of the Housewife –Quaint – or broke –A newer Sevres pleases –Old Ones cracked –

I might not dice – v You –For One must waitTo closeup of the door the rather Gaze down –You – could not –


And ns – might I stand byAnd view You – frozen –Without my appropriate of Frost –Death’s privilege?

Nor can I rise – v You –Because your FaceWould put out Jesus’ –That brand-new Grace


Glow plain – and also foreignOn mine homesick Eye –Except that You 보다 HeShone closer through –

They’d judge us – just how –For girlfriend – offered Heaven – you know,Or sought come –I could not –


Because friend saturated vision –And I had no more EyesFor sordid excellenceAs Paradise

And were You lost, I would be –Though my NameRang loudestOn the Heavenly fame –


And were You – conserved –And ns – condemned come beWhere you were not –That self – to be Hell come Me –

So us must satisfy apart –You there – ns – here –With simply the Door ajarThat oceans are – and also Prayer –And the White Sustenance –Despair –


What is this enigmatic city about? It opens by wrong-footing united state – twice – in the first two lines. ‘I cannot live v You’: unusually because that a love poem, the delinquent is not ‘I cannot live there is no you’, but rather the opposite. Then, the reason: ‘It would certainly be Life’. No death, i m sorry is what we could expect, but the more positive ‘Life’.

Yet this ‘Life’, for Dickinson, is far from positive: the is confined and concealed, ‘Behind the Shelf’, together if a sexton (or church officer) had locked the away. That is like broken or outdated porcelain – an old cup, for circumstances – that is discarded or retained out of vision by a housewife that doesn’t desire such unfashionable china on display.


Dickinson then states that, simply as she can not live with her lover, she can not die through him either:

I can not die – v You –For One must waitTo close up door the other’s Gaze down –You – might not –


And i – could I was standing byAnd see You – freeze –Without my best of Frost –Death’s privilege?

To depicted this, ‘I might not die v you, due to the fact that to view your love one die and also have come close your dead eyes v your fingers would fill you with grief so overpowering that you’d want to sign up with them in fatality – and you can’t, due to the fact that “One should wait” because that one’s own death, and go on living without the various other person. And as for myself, could I was standing by and watch her body rotate cold in death, there is no longing to acquire my very own “Right that Frost” and also join friend in cold death?’

From considering life and death, Dickinson then turns her analytical eye come resurrection, stating the she could not increase from the dead through her love one, since his face is also beautiful and also would obscure the face of Jesus. This would avoid Dickinson from seeing paradise, since her lover’s face would block it from view.

Similarly, she cannot develop of hell, because hell for her simply method being there is no him. Just as your lives need to be invested apart and their deaths must be solitary, so they it seems ~ destined to invest their time in the immortality apart – at least this is the method Dickinson see it.

The city ends v another tiny riddle or paradox:So we must fulfill apart –You there – i – right here –With simply the Door ajarThat seas are – and also Prayer –And that White Sustenance –Despair –

‘Meet apart’? just like two civilization in two different rooms who deserve to merely glimpse and also hear each various other through a door left ajar, or like two people who are seas apart (but who can, for instance, ‘meet’ through corresponding if no by meeting in the flesh), Dickinson and also her lover space destined come meet however only in together a method that reminds us of the distance in between them. Finally, Dickinson likens this kind of partnership to the one a religious person has with God: ‘Prayer’ is a means of ‘meeting’ God but additionally reminds the mortal worshipper that God is up there while they space down here on Earth.

And then, a last overturning of traditional thinking: ‘Despair’ is not painted black yet instead is ‘White Sustenance’. This turns on the head the usual black-white perspective to hope and also despair (‘great white hope’, ‘blackest despair’), make despair not just the white one but the point which keeps us going or sustains us. For after all, in hopeless love it is despair at the situation, fairly than hope the it have the right to be overcome, which tends to feed on us and which we, in turn, feeding on. You’ll be hard-pushed to find a more succinct and sharp, yet also powerfully moving, description of hopeless love in every one of nineteenth-century poetry.

‘I cannot live with You’ is at once a love poem and also an anti-love poem, or rather a poem versus the act of love. This is due to the fact that it can additionally be analysed as, if no a religious poem, climate a poem around religion, due to the fact that it says that mortal love distracts us from spiritual thoughts and religious observance. This is obvious in the early reference come the sexton, and then again in the lines about Jesus and paradise. The poem deftly weaves together acquainted tropes indigenous love city – the sentiments that ‘life without you would certainly be hell’ and also ‘my thoughts space consumed completely by you’ – and, by melding them with each other with spiritual tropes, create a new kind that love poem.

Discover an ext of Dickinson’s exorbitant poetry with the glorious (and gloriously thick!) Complete Poems

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. You might additionally enjoy our analysis of her classic poem ‘My Life had stood – a loaded Gun’ and her poem about madness, ‘I feeling a Funeral, in mine Brain’.

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The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. That is the author of, amongst others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey v Curiosities the History

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 and The good War, The garbage Land and also the Modernist long Poem.