Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 614
"I Married" by Lorine Niedecker is a short, 21-line poem. Its terse structure introduces several characters and themes. It begins, "I married / in the world’s black night / for warmth." This initially introduces us to the main subject of the poem, the speaker, as well as this new subject, their spouse.
We know already from these three lines that the speaker may not have a positive outlook on life, as they refer to the world as a "black night." The "world's black night" evokes images of fear, doom, rest, and cold. The spouse is initially introduced as someone who will provide "warmth" in this "black night."
The speaker describes the spouse as one that will offer warmth "if not repose. / At the close—/ someone." Here, a possible interpretation is that the speaker is near death, as they are seeking marriage "at the close." The line "someone" is almost tossed out here to suggest that the spouse can be anyone as long as they are "someone" to keep the speaker company before death.
The next stanza, "I hid with him / from the long range guns. / We lay leg / in the cupboard, head / in closet," suggests again that this spouse is company from a malicious world rather than a fully formed person on his own. It does not give any more details about him. Rather, the lines "I hid with him / from the long range guns" reinforce that the speaker is anxious and fearful about the world outside, and it is preferable to contort oneself into the cupboard and closet with "someone."
The next stanza, beginning with "A slit of light / at no bird dawn—" could refer to this marriage as a beacon of light, but it is followed quickly with a "no bird dawn," suggesting that their marriage, while a small respite from the "black night," is not the same as a new day with birds singing.
This stanza finishes with "Untaught / I thought / he drank." Because of the way these lines are configured, with "untaught" and "I thought" right justified and and "he drank" left justified, these could be two separate descriptions of each character. The narrator is "untaught" and is someone who thinks constantly, juxtaposed with their husband who drinks. In other words, while the narrator is thinking, perhaps about death, the world, and the doom of the "long range guns," the spouse is drinking.
The poem ends, "too much. / I say / I married / and lived unburied. / I thought—." This abstract ending does not provide much closure to the poem. The "too much" may refer to the narrator's husband drinking too much, for in the flow of the poem the lines read "he drank / too much." However, the separation of stanzas could also allow us to view "too much" as the description of both of their actions: the husband's drinking and the narrator's thinking.
The takeaway of the last lines, "I say / I married / and lived unburied. / I thought—," reintroduces this theme of the marriage being a way to live rather than die, for the narrator "lived unburied." This brings to mind imagery of a coffin underground and the narrator living in opposition of that.
To conclude, the main characters are the narrator—who we understand to think a lot about death, disaster, and violence in the world—and the narrator's husband. All we really know about the narrator's husband is that he drinks; the implicit undertone suggests that where the narrator is thinking about "long range guns" and other disasters, the husband is drinking so as not to think about them. While the marriage may not be perfect, he is willing to hide with the narrator from the violent and scary world.
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