Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I married” sets its love story against the backdrop of a tragically unenlightened human race whose actions allow the “long range guns” to gather strength. Reference has already been made to the phrase “long range guns” as pointing both to warfare and to the broadcasts of the mass media. This interpretation may seem far-fetched; however, turning to other works of Niedecker, one finds that she often takes note of radio and television, sometimes quite negatively. In “Alone,” for example, she celebrates being without a television set with the statement, “At last no (TV) gun.” The gun metaphor in “Alone” refers to the way in which the public uses electronic entertainment as a weapon against meditation, anxieties, and other things it wishes to avoid.

Niedecker states in “I married” that her relationship to her husband has brought her much of the comfort she had sought. She speaks of the somewhat disappointing but still invigorating “dawn” moments and states near the end of the poem about eluding, through her marriage, a “buried” feeling of death in life.

In the latter passage, there is also another possible meaning: When Niedecker states, “I married/ and lived unburied,” she can be seen as expressing thanks that the marriage itself has not crushed her spirit. The tangles and perils that must accompany the attempt to mingle two human lives are an important concern of this poem. The passage about drinking can be viewed as relevantly exhibiting one of the tangles of Niedecker’s married life.

This leads, finally, to a possible added significance of the passage about “a slit of light.” In addition to the meaning already discussed, Niedecker indicates in these lines that her dawnlike moments of spiritual renewal, and her experiences of literal sunrises, cannot be characterized as “bird dawn[s],” because she cannot feel the simple elation one imagines a bird to experience when it senses sunlight or otherwise feels invigorated. Her happiness, like her other emotions, can only be human and complex, intertwined with intellectual conceptions and the details of a complicated life.