Analysis

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Last Updated on August 7, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 633

"I married" is a short, four stanza, untitled poem by Lorine Niedecker that is known by its first line. The writing is abrupt and obscure, though when spoken aloud or read at once, it has a sing-song melody which can be heard especially in its rhymes. The dichotomy between its easy rhyming melody and difficult-to-interpret subject matter mirrors the dichotomies present in the text, which include life and death, marriage and strangeness, violence and safety, light and black, and thinking and speaking.

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In the beginning, the speaker says that she married for warmth, "if not repose," in the "world's black night." She goes on, "At the close— / someone." As readers, we understand that this marriage represents warmth in the face of a dark, cold world. It is light in the dark night and insulation from the cold. The speaker says that while it is probably not repose—that is, full serenity—this marriage is compelling enough to justify itself when measured against the harsh realities of the world.

This sentiment of warmth is juxtaposed with a much less romantic notion as the stanza continues. From the lines "At the close—/ someone," the readers understand the narrator to mean that she is close to death and is looking for "someone" to be in this role of a spouse, though she does not specify who.

Already, Niedecker is challenging notions of what marriage is. Culturally, marriage is highly romanticized and idealized, often represented as young people in love, enjoying the beauty of the world. At the very beginning of this poem, the speaker does not talk about the world as a beautiful or ideal place. Rather, she is cold in the "world's black night" and is close to death, and she will take the non-specific "someone" as her spouse in order to experience warmth. This evokes a dualism that continues through the poem, here represented by positioning two conflicting concepts of "marriage" (closeness) and "someone" (strangeness).

The next stanza discusses her hiding with her husband from "long range guns." The speaker says, "We lay leg / in the cupboard, head / in closet." This imagery of guns, like the phrase "world's black night," elaborates on this theme of a scary and dark world. The placement of words on the page in "We lay leg / in the cupboard, head / in closet" physically mirrors the image of two people contorting, hiding in their small apartment. It also implies death through the image of a casket. A dualism to think about here is the dichotomy of "long range guns," which can presumably find and reach anyone from anywhere in the world, and her action of hiding in a small space so as not to be found.

The next stanza opens on the image of a "slit of light / at no bird dawn—." As a reader, we can interpret this line as the speaker reflecting on her marriage. This companionship is a small moment of light or hope, but ultimately that light leads to a dawn that is bird-less and without celebration, song, or joy. The next lines, "Untaught / I thought / he drank," represent her and her husband's actions, though it is not clear whether it is the speaker or her husband that is "untaught"—it could be both of them. We know that the speaker does think about the fate of the world and shares this lens with the readers in the previous two stanzas, and she alludes to this again with "I thought / he drank."

The poem ends "too much. / I say / I married / and lived unburied. / I thought—." This wistful ending ties together the role of thinking for the narrator. It can be understood that the last line ("I thought—") might also be a preface the poem. The speaker is thinking cyclically about the world, marriage, and death.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 542

“I married” is short and untitled; by convention, it is referred to by its first line. The simple declaration of the opening line is followed by a stanza break, and then by twenty short lines arranged in four stanzas. Though this is a free-verse lyric, the third and fourth lines of each stanza are linked by a rhyme or near-rhyme. Sometimes the focus of the poet’s attention shifts dramatically within a given stanza, as well as from one stanza to the next.

In the first stanza, Lorine Niedecker speaks of her motivation for marrying—she sought a refuge of human kindness in a world whose deplorable condition she characterizes as a state of “black night.” She next says that she expected “warmth” from her marriage but could not realistically hope for “repose.” In this context, “warmth” is also something one desperately seeks in the face of a society that is “cold” like night-time, and “repose” is something that is difficult to come by in a world that seems organized for the benefit of evildoers, just as nightfall is the time when criminals gain advantage and malevolent supernatural spirits are thought to stir. Niedecker concludes the stanza by noting that “at the close” she has found a companion. She was indeed sixty years old in 1963, when the marriage she speaks of took place.

In the second stanza, one gains a clearer sense of “the world’s black night.” Here Niedecker speaks of herself and her husband seeking shelter from “the long range guns.” This phrase is packed with menacing significance. It suggests the deadly trajectory of a long-range nuclear missile launched at a target from somewhere far across the planet. It also evokes the wounding of concerned and knowledgeable persons by their awareness of armed conflicts occurring in other parts of the globe. Finally, the poet may be thinking of the electronic mass media: the television and radio stations that send their signals across long distances in every direction, seeking to addict as many people as possible to their inane offerings. The conclusion of the stanza turns from this evocation of violence and manipulation to another matter—it comments, amusingly, on the cramped condition of the apartment shared by the poet and her husband.

The opening of the third stanza speaks of “A slit of light/ at no bird dawn—.” The first line evokes the stripe of brightness visible on the horizon at daybreak, but this dawn, presumably in winter, is unaccompanied by the delight offered by a chorus of birds. This suggests a moment when one feels a sense of spiritual renewal that is not as sweet as one had anticipated such a moment might be. Niedecker is telling readers that such vivifying, if not totally radiant, moments are typical of her marriage. The stanza then veers toward another consideration—the poet discusses the history of her attitude toward her husband’s drinking habits.

In the final stanza, Niedecker builds on the poem’s opening declaration to state that “I married/ and lived unburied.” That is to say, the marriage has helped her to avoid sinking into a demoralized state of half-deadness. The poem ends not with this conclusive-sounding sentence, but rather with the enigma of the broken-off statement, “I thought—.”

Forms and Devices

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Last Updated on May 6, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 496

“I married” is a challenging poem—it forces one constantly to maintain one’s interpretive alertness, and one may be puzzled or even exasperated by its sometimes quirky movement from subject to subject. If one listens well to Niedecker’s tone, one finds that it is also an engagingly friendly poem, for it radiates a feeling of candid and calm personal revelation, in which there is self-assurance without a trace of pompous self-importance, and meditation without brooding or abstraction.

Avoiding any theatrical outcries or effusions, the poet speaks quietly of the renewal she gained from her marriage and displays unembittered acceptance of the inherent limitations of human relationships and lives. Even wrenching societal horror is addressed in a calm manner. The poem’s tone of amiable stillness and strength can be seen in the following lines:

for warmth   if not repose   At the close—someone.

The phrase “at the close” speaks of a potentially devastating fact: not having many more years to live. Yet these lines are arranged for the word “close” to be lightened by fitting into a cheerful rhyme. If one pronounces the lines aloud, one rushes eagerly to this rhyme once one has spoken the word “repose,” for “at” and “the” are not syllables the tongue lingers over. One feels that Niedecker is facing her advanced age without terror.

There are odd shifts of attention in “I married” and sections that seem only loosely connected to the themes of the whole. Listening to the rhythms and other sonic aspects of the poem is relevant to this concern also; one perceives that, as in an excellent piece of music in which each passage grows logically from the notes that precede it, each moment of the poem sounds as if it fits exactly where it is. This tends to wear down any resistance one might have to the way the poem is constructed.

If one shifts one’s attention from sound to meaning, resistance is also challenged by the vibrant nature of each portion of the poem. The passage about living in unroomy lodgings charms with its comical exaggeration, and when Niedecker writes

   Untaught   I thoughthe dranktoo much,

the phrase “too much,” isolated after the pause of a skipped line, links with the previous words of the sentence in two different ways. The sentence can mean, “Inexperienced, I thought he drank excessively,” and, less obviously, “Inexperienced, I thought too much about his drinking.” Both meanings are intended. The double duty performed by the simple words “too much” is an example of the condensed nature of Niedecker’s poetry. She saw the compression of much meaning into few words as central to her poetic activity.

From beginning to end, “I married” is terse in its expression. One may note especially, however, the way in which the phrase “long range guns” encapsulates various frightening realities, and the curious manner in which the compact phrase “no bird dawn” is crafted by wrenching the noun “bird” into adjectival usage.

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