Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

As the title suggests, the first and most pronounced theme of “Living Alone” is isolation. It is not, however, the only major theme and is probably not the most important. That distinction falls to survival.

The “I” of the poem starts as an outcast, a person who has been suddenly and permanently ejected from what he thought of as his home, the one place where he felt safe and had some sense of security about his identity. At first he falls victim to self-pity, wallowing in his own dirge about all the different ways he was wronged. Then the ordinariness of life starts nibbling at the fabric of his lament. The voices and vulgar noises that seep through the thin walls of his apartment, the boredom and occasional drudgery of housework done alone, and the simple process of growing older each day begin to reshape his complaints until he declares, “All one can do is to achieve nakedness.”

His solitude appears to have brought him down to a point at which he is able to start up again. He questions whether he will return to the same place, be the same person or type of person. On the road to rebuilding (surviving), he turns to the art of music, specifically the blues. This move to the blues would suggest to a person already familiar with the work of Carruth that the poem is, at least in some part or fashion, autobiographical: Carruth has, over several decades, written extensively about jazz and the blues.