Emily Dickinson’s Poem: I Cannot Live With You
Emily Dickinson was one of the most famous American poetry writers in history. She was born in Amherst, Massachusetts on December 10, 1830, and is the middle child of three siblings. Emily Dickinson was born into a middle class family and was well educated. Her father, Edward Dickinson was a lawyer, a town official, and a treasurer of Amherst College. They had a house in the town of Amherst, which was known as “The Homestead,” which was built by her grandfather in 1813. She attended college for a year at Mount Holyoke Female Seminary, studying a variety of subjects from Latin to English literature. However, her father had taken her out of college due to a developed illness.
As a young girl, Dickinson’s father tried to refrain her from reading books that would sway her belief in religion. She and her family attended church regularly and her parents would raise her to be a Christian woman. However, Emily Dickinson refused to “think badly of ‘the world,’ or believe that greater pleasures could be found in heaven than on earth,” (pg. 1295, Lauter). Additionally, her letters expressed, “heaven was embodied in familiar surroundings in nature, in love, and in the power of thought,” (pg. 1295, Lauter).
Emily Dickinson’s early letters were written at Amherst Academy and Mount Holyoke Female Seminary. Her poems expressed a “witty, startling, irreverent imagination, and a passion for situations which combined friendship, honesty, secrecy, and private jokes, and talk about books and ideas,” (pg. 1295, Lauter). Dickinson’s poems were original in style, spoken from the heart with strong emotions.
One of Emily Dickinson’s famous love poems, “I cannot live with you,” expresses a variety of reasons of why they are unable to live a life together. In the first three stanzas of her poem, she puts an emphasis on the word life. She strongly uses the word “life” because life is full of rules and complications that keep us from expressing our freedom and creativity. She expresses that if they wanted to be together in life, they would have to surrender their passion of expression, which would defeat the purpose of life.
Furthermore, in the second stanza, a Sexton is defined as, “an officer of a church who is responsible for the care and upkeep of church property and sometimes for ringing bells and digging graves,” (dictionary.com). She expresses a “sexton” as a criminal because he maintains a strong value in religion, by keeping her away from the man she loves by being devoted to God. At the end of the second stanza to the beginning of the third stanza, she compares the porcelain cup to her delicate heart. Emily Dickinson expresses the cup as being broken which means that she could also end up feeling hurt when her heart is shattered. The cup, made out of porcelain is compared to love because of the one similarity they share, which is beauty. She expresses that her heart is fragile, but love is one of the greatest feelings in life shared between two people.
Continuing to the fourth and fifth stanzas, Emily Dickinson expresses that dying together would be impossible to accomplish. When Dickinson says, “I could not die-with You-For One must wait,” (pg. 1307, Dickinson), she explains that one has to wait to die, while their significant other has passed away. In the same stanza, Dickinson says, “To shut the Other’s Gaze down, You-could-Not,” expressing that when it is her time to die, the one she loves would not be there to wait for her. Alternatively, a message is conveyed that once the person they have loved has died, they believe that there is no purpose to live any longer.
Following the next two stanzas (six and seven), Dickinson also expresses that life after death is unattainable. When she says, “Because Your Face Would put out Jesus’-,” (pg. 1307, Dickinson), she shows through her message that her loved one comes before Jesus. Emily Dickinson expresses her importance for her man and that his face would over power Jesus. If Jesus comes after the one she loves, this showed that religion was not an important factor in her life.
Moving along to stanzas, eight through eleven, Emily Dickinson puts across that if she was separated away from him, she believed that it would be “hell.” She can picture him being saved because he had served God, and she would be “condemned” because she had not served God, and put him last, therefore she would not be saved. Furthermore, in stanza nine, it is said, “Because You are saturated Sight-And I had no more eyes,” (pg. 1308, Dickson), expresses that she has a spot engraved in his life, since he is the only one that she cares for. She sees no one else, but him. Consequently, she could care less about earthly desires, which is mentioned as “paradise.” It is expressed that paradise is “sordid,” meaning that Paradise is unpleasant parallel with the happiness of her relationship to the one she loves. Moreover, “Paradise” is seen as heaven, but she will not acknowledge the idea of heaven if her loved one is not with her.
Lastly, in the very last stanza, “So we must meet apart,” is expressed that that the only thing they can do is be away from each other. When Dickinson says, “With just the doors ajar,” (pg. 1308, Dickinson), it said that doors are meant to be partly open. With the door being partly open, it symbolizes that hope did not vanish away, but the fact that it is still there. Moreover, “oceans” are expressed for them to be physically apart. Thus, the poem is ended with “despair,” meaning that she will not be able to find an answer for them to be together again.
Furthermore, throughout all her poems, the use of commas is nonexistent, but is replaced with dashes. It is said that Dickinson may have used dashes to show the reader a stress to certain words and phrases (pg. 1296, Lauter). In this poem, the dashes could represent her distance between her and her loved one. One example of dashes representing their distance would be in the last stanza when she said “You there-I-here.” With dashes, it has placed an emphasis on the reasons why they are unable to live with each other.
In Emily Dickinson’s poem, her experience comes to life with the use of imagery. The objects she uses which were the cup, the shelf, Jesus, the Sexton, and the door, all express her thoughts and feelings from a broken heart to a partly opened door with some kind of hope. All in all, Dickinson shows in this poem that she has no choice but to be feeling lonely and discontented without her loved one in her life.
Taken as a whole, when reading Dickinson’s poem “I cannot live with You,” it left a feeling of isolation, a sense of loneliness and separation from her loved one. There were various ideas conveyed in the poem alone: life, death, religion, to become alive again, and despair. Her poem is like the cycle of death and life after death, conveying the idea that she is left with fear because there is no hope or way for them to be in this world together.