The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Adrienne Rich’s “Living in Sin” is a twenty-six-line single-stanza poem that effectively captures the stark contrast between a young woman’s romantic notions and the bitter taste of daily realities once she acts on those notions.

Told entirely from the woman’s point of view, the poem begins in the past, with the vision of how she thought her life would be living with the man she loved. The first two lines effectively convey her naïveté, her simple acceptance of a fairy tale version of her future once she has accepted his offer to come and live with him. The last two lines picture her waking up both literally and figuratively to the painful awareness of what the future holds.

The intervening twenty-two lines present a graphic account of her transition from daydreams to nightmares. Through devotion to her romantic fantasies, the young woman fails to anticipate the trials and disillusionments of daily life. Because she is in love, she imagines that commonplace cares and chores such as cleaning and cooking would not be part of her world. Her small apartment “would keep itself;/ no dust upon the furniture of love.” Her vision of a studio with “a plate of pears,/ a piano with a Persian shawl” seems taken from a painting or a scene in a romance novel rather than from real life. Even once there in her new life, it seems a betrayal of her fantasy to wish things were different, “half heresy” to resent the dripping faucet and the...

(The entire section is 542 words.)