Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

This poem is a critique of the traditional paradigm for human life set forth by Christianity. By means of the metaphor of a love relationship, the speaker delineates the inadequacy of this paradigm as a model for human existence and affirms a superior, individual definition of “Life.” What first appears in the poem to be a renunciation of love becomes, in fact, a renunciation of those ways of viewing life that interfere with the higher vision of the lovers.

The speaker renounces those definitions of life which do not provide “Sustenance.” “Life” that is susceptible to decay, mutability, and—more important—the authority of others (the “Sexton,” the “Housewife,” “They,” or God Himself) is life that can be and needs to be “Discarded.” The speaker, from the beginning, implies that the two lovers can create a different kind of life that is not perishable—an eternal life: “A newer Sevres pleases.” Similarly, power over death is appropriated by the lovers. If, as the speaker metaphorically asserts, to die is to have one’s sight “freeze,” then the lovers will be looking at each other so steadfastly that only they can stop the gaze of each other, only they can bring about death.

The speaker goes on to eradicate the possibility of traditional resurrection when she says, in effect, that her beloved is brighter, more enlightening, and more of a “sun” to her “Eye” than Jesus: Her lover, in other words, is...

(The entire section is 580 words.)