The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“I cannot live with You—” (the title is not Emily Dickinson’s, since she did not title her poems) is a poem of fifty lines divided into eleven four-line stanzas and a concluding twelfth stanza of six lines. The poem is an unusually long poem for Dickinson. It is written in the first person from the point of view of a speaker addressing a lover.

Structurally, the poem is a list of things the speaker and her lover cannot do together and the reasons why they cannot. In the first three stanzas, the speaker announces to her beloved that she cannot “live” with the person because of the nature of “Life” itself. Life as it is ordinarily conceived of by those who deal with it daily on its most basic levels—the “Housewife” and the “Sexton” who locks up and unlocks (“keeps the Key to”) both earthly possessions and the graveyard—is something subject to decay: It can “crack” and be “Discarded.”

The speaker goes on to assert in the fourth and fifth stanzas that neither could she “die” with her beloved, because one of them would have to remain alive in order to close the other’s eyes (“For One must wait/ To shut the Other’s Gaze down”). The speaker asserts further that logically it would be impossible for her both to “see” the beloved die (“freeze”) and to be dead at the same time (to have her “Right of Frost”).

In the sixth and seventh stanzas, the speaker explains why she could not...

(The entire section is 496 words.)