“Living Alone” is a fairly long poem (165 lines); it might appear at first to be in free verse, but actually it employs several types of rhyme, rhythm, and formal lineation. Excluding the epigraph and dedication, the poem is divided into seventeen sections, several of which are further divided into stanzas. The poem is dedicated to John Cheever, an American prose writer, and begins with an epigraph taken from one of Cheever’s works. In this epigraph an observer on a ship sees a Ping-Pong table washed off the ship’s deck because the helmsman made a miscalculation. Watching the table bobbing in the ship’s wake, the observer is reminded of the plight of someone washed overboard.
The first section of the poem is a single stanza that acts as a backdrop for the melodrama that follows. The narrator of the poem sees, through the insulated window of his apartment, a solitary chrysanthemum, the last one of the season. As wind and ice tear at its head, a gull cries and hovers above it. In the second section the narrator compares his pain to that of a “snake run over.” It is not until the third section that the reader learns the source of his pain and shock: He has been expelled “from her house” by his “successor” and is now living alone—thus the title of the poem. Although the reader learns that her name is Rachel and that the speaker probably knows her grandmother, he never identifies her as wife or lover. He simply states that he was...
(The entire section is 586 words.)