‘I cannot live v You’ is just one of Emily Dickinson’s most well known poems, yet like lot of her best poetry, the eludes any type of easy or straightforward analysis. Somewhat unusually among Dickinson’s most commemorated poems, ‘I can not live through You’ is a love city – but it is far from a standard one.

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

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

Discarded the the Housewife –Quaint – or broke –A more recent Sevres pleases –Old Ones crack –

I can not die – through You –For One have to waitTo close up door the rather Gaze down –You – can not –

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

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

Glow level – and also foreignOn my homesick Eye –Except that You than HeShone closer through –

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

Because you saturated sight –And I had actually no an ext EyesFor sordid excellenceAs Paradise

And were You lost, I would certainly be –Though mine NameRang loudestOn the Heavenly call –

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

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 –

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

Yet this ‘Life’, for Dickinson, is much from positive: the is confined and also concealed, ‘Behind the Shelf’, as if a sexton (or church officer) had locked it away. The is like broken or outdated porcelain – an old cup, for instance – the is discarded or preserved out of sight by a housewife that doesn’t want such unfashionable china ~ above display.

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

I could not dice – with You –For One should waitTo closeup of the door the rather Gaze down –You – can not –

And i – could I stand byAnd check out You – frozen –Without my appropriate of Frost –Death’s privilege?

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

From considering life and death, Dickinson then transforms her analytical eye come resurrection, stating the she could not increase from the dead v her loved one, because his confront is too beautiful and would obscure the confront of Jesus. This would avoid Dickinson from seeing paradise, due to the fact that her lover’s challenge would block that from view.

Similarly, she cannot develop of hell, due to the fact that hell for her simply method being there is no him. Simply as their lives need to be invested apart and their deaths need to be solitary, so they seem destined to spend their time in the immortality apart – at least this is the way Dickinson views it.

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

‘Meet apart’? as with two human being in two different rooms who can merely glimpse and hear each various other through a door left ajar, or choose two civilization who are seas apart (but that can, for instance, ‘meet’ through equivalent if no by conference in the flesh), Dickinson and also her lover room destined come meet but only in together a means that reminds us of the distance between them. Finally, Dickinson likens this type of partnership to the one a spiritual person has with God: ‘Prayer’ is a way of ‘meeting’ God but also reminds the mortal worshipper the God is up over there while they space down below on Earth.

And then, a last overturning of typical thinking: ‘Despair’ is not painted black but instead is ‘White Sustenance’. This transforms on its head the normal black-white mindset to hope and despair (‘great white hope’, ‘blackest despair’), making despair not just the white one yet the point which keeps united state going or sustains us. For after all, in hopeless love it is despair at the situation, fairly than hope that it can be overcome, which tends to feeding on us and also which we, in turn, feed on. You will do it be hard-pushed to uncover a an ext succinct and sharp, yet additionally powerfully moving, summary of hopeless love in all of nineteenth-century poetry.

‘I can not live v You’ is at when a love poem and also an anti-love poem, or fairly a poem against the action of love. This is because it can also be analysed as, if no a religious poem, then a poem about religion, since it suggests that mortal love distracts us from spiritual thoughts and religious observance. This is evident in the at an early stage reference to the sexton, and then again in the lines about Jesus and also paradise. The city deftly weaves together acquainted tropes indigenous love poetry – the sentiments the ‘life without you would be hell’ and ‘my thoughts space consumed completely by you’ – and, by mediate them together with spiritual tropes, create a new kind of love poem.

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

. Girlfriend might additionally enjoy our analysis of her classic poem ‘My Life had actually stood – a invited Gun’ and also her poem around madness, ‘I feel a Funeral, in my Brain’.

See more: What Is The Answer To Number 42 On The Impossible Quiz Answers

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

 and The great War, The garbage Land and the Modernist lengthy Poem.