Last Updated September 5, 2023.
"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.
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.