‘I can not live through You’ is one of Emily Dickinson’s most well known poems, but like lot of her biggest poetry, the eludes any easy or straightforward analysis. Somewhat unusually among Dickinson’s most celebrated poems, ‘I cannot live v You’ is a love poem – but it is much from a standard one.

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I can not live v You –It would be Life –And Life is end there –Behind the Shelf

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


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

I can not die – through You –For One must waitTo close up door the rather Gaze under –You – could not –


And ns – can I was standing byAnd watch You – freeze –Without my ideal of Frost –Death’s privilege?

Nor might I rise – v You –Because her FaceWould placed out Jesus’ –That brand-new Grace


Glow level – and foreignOn my homesick Eye –Except the You 보다 HeShone closer by –

They’d judge us – exactly how –For friend – served Heaven – you know,Or sought come –I might not –


Because girlfriend saturated vision –And I had no an ext EyesFor sordid excellenceAs Paradise

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


And were You – saved –And ns – condemned come beWhere girlfriend were not –That self – were Hell to Me –

So we must meet apart –You over there – ns – right here –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 united state – twice – in the an initial two lines. ‘I cannot live with You’: unusually for a love poem, the assertion is not ‘I cannot live without you’, however rather the opposite. Then, the reason: ‘It would be Life’. Not death, which is what we could expect, yet the an ext positive ‘Life’.

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 That is like broken or outdated porcelain – an old cup, for instance – that is discarded or kept out of vision by a housewife who doesn’t want such unfashionable china top top display.


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

I might not dice – through You –For One should waitTo close up door the rather Gaze under –You – could not –


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

To depicted this, ‘I could not die through you, because to check out your love one die and also have come close your dead eyes with your fingers would fill you through grief so overpowering that you’d want to sign up with them in death – and you can’t, because “One need to wait” because that one’s very own death, and go on life without the other person. And as because that myself, might I stand by and watch your body rotate cold in death, there is no longing to achieve my own “Right of Frost” and also join you in cold death?’

From considering life and also death, Dickinson then transforms her analytical eye to resurrection, stating that she could not rise from the dead through her love one, since his confront is also beautiful and also would obscure the face of Jesus. This would stop Dickinson from see paradise, because her lover’s confront would block the 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 have to be spent apart and also their deaths should be solitary, therefore they seem destined to invest their time in the immortality apart – at the very least this is the method Dickinson views it.

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

‘Meet apart’? just like two world in two separate rooms who deserve to merely glimpse and also hear each various other through a door left ajar, or prefer two world who are seas apart (but who can, for instance, ‘meet’ through matching if no by meeting in the flesh), Dickinson and her lover space destined come meet however only in together a method that reminds us of the distance between them. Finally, Dickinson likens this sort of connection to the one a religious person has actually with God: ‘Prayer’ is a way of ‘meeting’ God but additionally reminds the mortal worshipper that God is up over there while they are down right 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 normal black-white attitude to hope and also despair (‘great white hope’, ‘blackest despair’), do despair not only the white one but the thing which keeps united state going or sustains us. For after all, in hopeless love it is despair in ~ the situation, quite than hope that it can be overcome, which has tendency to feed on us and also which we, in turn, feed on. You’ll be hard-pushed to uncover a much more succinct and also sharp, yet additionally powerfully moving, description of hopeless love in every one of nineteenth-century poetry.

‘I cannot live with You’ is at when a love poem and also an anti-love poem, or quite a poem against the action of love. This is since it can also be analysed as, if not a spiritual poem, then a poem about religion, because it says that mortal love distracts us from spiritual think and religious observance. This is obvious in the early reference to the sexton, and then again in the lines about Jesus and paradise. The poem deftly weaves together acquainted tropes indigenous love city – the sentiments the ‘life there is no you would be hell’ and also ‘my thoughts space consumed totally by you’ – and, by convey them with each other with religious tropes, create a new kind of love poem.

Discover more 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 around madness, ‘I feel a Funeral, in mine Brain’.

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The author of this article, Dr Oliver Tearle, is a literary critic and also lecturer in English in ~ Loughborough University. He is the writer of, among others, The an enig Library: A Book-Lovers’ Journey with Curiosities of History

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