‘I can not live v You’ is among Emily Dickinson’s most renowned poems, however like lot of her greatest poetry, that eludes any kind of easy or straightforward analysis. Rather unusually among Dickinson’s most celebrated poems, ‘I cannot live with You’ is a love poem – however it is much from a standard one.

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

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


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

I could not dice – with You –For One need to waitTo close up door the other’s Gaze under –You – could not –


And i – might I was standing byAnd check out You – freeze –Without my best of Frost –Death’s privilege?

Nor might I climb – through You –Because your FaceWould put out Jesus’ –That brand-new Grace


Glow plain – and also foreignOn mine homesick Eye –Except the You than HeShone closer by –

They’d judge us – exactly how –For you – served Heaven – you know,Or sought to –I could not –


Because girlfriend saturated sight –And I had no more EyesFor sordid excellenceAs Paradise

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


And to be You – conserved –And ns – condemned to beWhere you were no –That self – were Hell to Me –

So we must accomplish apart –You over there – ns – below –With just the Door ajarThat seas are – and also Prayer –And that White Sustenance –Despair –


What is this enigmatic poem about? It opens up by wrong-footing us – double – in the first two lines. ‘I cannot live through You’: unusually for a love poem, the delinquent is no ‘I cannot live there is no you’, however rather the opposite. Then, the reason: ‘It would be Life’. No death, i m sorry is what we might expect, yet the more positive ‘Life’.

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 That is like damaged or outdated porcelain – an old cup, for circumstances – that is discarded or preserved out of vision by a housewife that doesn’t desire such unfashionable china ~ above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


Dickinson then claims that, just as she can not live v her lover, she might not die through him either:

I could not dice – through You –For One need to waitTo close up door the other’s Gaze down –You – might not –


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

To pictured this, ‘I might not die v you, because to see your love one die and also have to close their dead eyes through your fingers would certainly fill you v grief therefore overpowering that you’d want to sign up with them in death – and also you can’t, because “One must wait” because that one’s very own death, and go on life without the other person. And as for myself, might I was standing by and also watch her body turn cold in death, there is no longing to obtain my very own “Right the Frost” and also join you in cold death?’

From considering life and death, Dickinson then transforms her analytical eye come resurrection, stating the she can not climb from the dead through her loved one, due to the fact that his face is as well beautiful and would obscure the face of Jesus. This would prevent Dickinson from see paradise, due to the fact that her lover’s challenge would block it from view.

Similarly, she cannot develop of hell, due to the fact that hell for she simply method being without him. Simply as their lives need to be invested apart and also their deaths need to be solitary, for this reason they seem destined to spend their time in the immortality apart – at least this is the method Dickinson see it.

The poem ends through another tiny riddle or paradox:So we must meet apart –You over there – i – here –With simply the Door ajarThat oceans are – and also Prayer –And the White Sustenance –Despair –

‘Meet apart’? as with two world in two different rooms who can merely glimpse and hear each other through a door left ajar, or favor two people who are oceans apart (but who can, for instance, ‘meet’ through equivalent if no by conference in the flesh), Dickinson and her lover space destined to meet however only in such a means that reminds us of the distance between them. Finally, Dickinson likens this kind of relationship to the one a spiritual person has actually with God: ‘Prayer’ is a way of ‘meeting’ God but additionally reminds the mortal worshipper that God is up there while they room down here on Earth.

And then, a critical overturning of typical thinking: ‘Despair’ is no painted black yet instead is ‘White Sustenance’. This transforms on that head the normal black-white mindset to hope and despair (‘great white hope’, ‘blackest despair’), making despair not just the white one however the thing which keeps us going or sustains us. For after all, in hopeless love it is despair in ~ the situation, fairly than hope that it can be overcome, which often tends to feeding 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, summary of hopeless love in every one of nineteenth-century poetry.

‘I can not live v You’ is at as soon as a love poem and an anti-love poem, or fairly a poem versus the action of love. This is due to the fact that it can also be analysed as, if no a religious poem, then a poem about religion, due to the fact that it says that mortal love distracts united state from spiritual thoughts and religious observance. This is evident in the early on reference to the sexton, and also then again in the lines about Jesus and also paradise. The city deftly weaves together acquainted tropes from love poetry – the sentiments the ‘life without you would be hell’ and ‘my thoughts are consumed totally by you’ – and, by melding them with each other with spiritual tropes, creates a brand-new kind that love poem.

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

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. You might likewise enjoy our evaluation of her standard poem ‘My Life had stood – a loaded Gun’ and her poem about madness, ‘I felt a Funeral, in my Brain’.

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The writer of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literature critic and also lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. He is the writer of, amongst others, The mystery Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey through Curiosities the History

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 and The great War, The waste Land and also the Modernist long Poem.