Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 534
The following opening lines set the context for the poem. The female speaker has moved into a studio apartment with the one she loves. She had once harbored romantic illusions of what it would be like to live with her beloved. However, these opening lines, establishing what her thoughts had been and are no more, show her dawning disillusionment:
She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
The dust, as we will find, is both literal and metaphoric. Literal, physical dust does accumulate on the furniture, and someone—she herself—has to clean it. This physical dust also dulls the romantic love she once felt, and her present relationship with the beloved is compared to a dusty piece of furniture, not as bright and shining as it was when new.
Rich shows her ability to capture both the apartment and a sense of unease with the following imagery. In these lines, Rich uses visual imagery so that a reader can see what she describes:
A plate of pears,
a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
had risen at his urging.
The pears are a simple domestic image, while the Persian shawl on the piano conjures an artistic, creative environment. The picture of a doomed mouse forced to defend itself because of the cat ready to attack raises unease. That the mouse, ready to be killed by a predator, is seen as "picturesque"and "amusing" suggests a lack of sensitivity to the sufferings of others and creates anxiety about the speaker's fate. Perhaps this apartment is not so loving after all.
Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
under the milkman's tramp; that morning light
so coldly would delineate the scraps
of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles . . .
Now the imagery becomes even more ominous. At one level, Rich describes a simple domestic scene that would have been common in the 1950s, when milkmen still went from house to house delivering milk in glass bottles. The speaker hears the...
(The entire section contains 534 words.)
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