Poem Review: ‘I Cannot Live With You’ by Emily Dickinson - An Anti-Love Love Letter


Source: Wikisource


So We must meet apart – 

You there – I – here – 

With just the Door ajar

That Oceans are – and Prayer – 

And that White Sustenance – 

Despair –”


Emily Dickinson’s secluded lifestyle, penchant for wearing only white, and “nervous” demeanor have all contributed to the creation of mythology in their own right- a conundrum that historians have long attempted to dissect and explain, using her enigmatic poems as a guide. 


Trying to figure out who Emily Dickinson was has become a serious industry. Like many of her poems, ‘I Cannot Live With You’ is one that eludes any straightforward analysis.


Introduction


Poem’s Name - I Cannot Live With You


Written By - Emily Dickinson


Themes - Love, Loss, Despair


Language - English


Published in - 1890


A Short Summary of the Poem


‘I Cannot Live With You’ is a love poem written for an unconditionally loved other. However, it's far from being a conventional love letter. The lines describe the reasons for the utter impossibility of the narrator, possibly Emily herself, being with the object of her love. 


This poem appears to be written in opposition to love. The poem can be divided into five sections. The first reveals why she is unable to live with the one she loves, the second explains that just as she cannot live with him, she can’t die with him either. The third section talks about why she is unable to “rise” with him, as in being resurrected from the dead. 


The fourth states why she cannot be with him even in death as she will go to hell while the one she loves will go to heaven. She comes to the conclusion that they should be separated since she sees him as a wonderful being who is capable of anything and is on his way to Heaven when the time is right.


About Emily Dickinson (December 10, 1830 – May 15, 1886)


Source: Emily Dickinson Museum

Emily Elizabeth Dickinson was an American poet. She was a little-known poet during her lifetime, but she is now considered one of the most influential personalities in American poetry. Dickinson appears to have spent much of her life in isolation. She would roam around her house, where she lived alone, in white clothing. 


She was renowned for her reluctance to greet guests or, later in life, even leave her bedroom and was considered an eccentric by the townspeople. Dickinson never married, and most of her friendships with others were based solely on letters. Dickinson was a brilliant writer, yet just ten of her roughly 1,800 poems and one letter were published during her lifetime. 


Her poetry was one-of-a-kind at the time. Short lines, no titles, and slant rhyme, as well as unorthodox capitalization and punctuation, are common features of her poems.  Many of her poems are about death and immortality, which are constant themes in her letters to her friends, as well as aesthetics, society, nature, and spirituality.


Psychological Analysis


Emily Dickinson lived in a time and place where the culture was embracing Christianity, and she voiced on several occasions how she hoped she could buy into the idea like so many others around her. She insisted, however, that she was unable to do so. In many of her poems, she expresses her incapacity to embrace the message she so desperately wanted to accept. 


This belief is seen in the poem "I Cannot Live With You," in which the speaker declines a marriage proposal. In this poem, she confronts her beloved, describing every potential conclusion of their union and asserting that it will all end in sorrow.


It starts off by catching us off guard twice in the first two sentences. ‘I cannot live with You': strangely for a love poem, the declaration is the polar opposite of ‘I cannot live without you.' Then there's the reason: 'It would be Life.' Not death, as one might think, but rather the more optimistic ‘Life.' 


However, for Dickinson, this ‘Life' is far from happy: it is restricted and hidden, ‘Behind the Shelf,' as if it had been locked away by a sexton (or church officer). The porcelain cup with cracks that are tossed away by a housewife is the symbol for their ‘would be’ life together. The broken cup is replaced by a newer one could also mean that somebody new, without any “cracks” would come and replace the narrator.


The narrator expresses that she can neither die the one she loves nor can she rise with him because his face is too beautiful and would overshadow Jesus' face. Dickinson would be unable to glimpse paradise because her lover's face would block her view. She can't imagine hell, either, because hell for her is simply being without him since he’s a believer of God and would go to heaven.


They appear doomed to spend their time in the hereafter alone, just as their lives must be spent apart and their deaths must be solitary - at least, this is how Dickinson sees it. 


Dickinson and her lover will meet, but only in a way that reminds us of the distance between them, just as two people in two separate rooms can only glimpse and hear each other through a door left ajar, or two people who are oceans apart (but who can, for example, ‘meet' through corresponding if not by meeting in the flesh).


Finally, Dickinson compares this type of relationship to a religious person's relationship with God: "Prayer" is a manner of "meeting" God while simultaneously reminding the mortal worshipper that God is up there while they are down here on Earth.


Summing Up


‘I Cannot Live With You' is both a love poem and an anti-love poem, or, to put it another way, a poem in opposition to the act of love. The use of imagery in Emily Dickinson's poetry brings her experience to life. 


The cup, the shelf, Jesus, the Sexton, and the door are the things she uses to describe her thoughts and feelings, which range from a broken heart to a partially opened door with a ray of hope. Overall, Dickinson demonstrates in this poem that she has no choice but to remain lonely and dissatisfied in the absence of her loved one.


Written By - Sanjana Chaudhary



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