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Poetry Close Reading Example

Poetry Close Reading Example - A Close Reading of"I Cannot...

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A Close Reading of "I Cannot Live With You" by Emily Dickinson http://www.poets.org/page.php/prmID/310 "I Cannot Live With You" is one of Emily Dickinson’s great love poems, close in form to the poetic argument of a classic Shakespearean sonnet. The poem shares the logical sensibility of the metaphysical poets whom she admired, advancing her thoughts about her lover, slowly, from the first declaration to the inevitable devastating conclusion. However, unlike most sonnet arguments or "carpe diem" poems, this poem seems designed to argue against love. The poem can be broken down into five parts. The first explains why she cannot live with her love object, the second why she cannot die with him, the third why she cannot rise with him, the fourth why she cannot fall with him, and the final utterance of impossibility. The poem begins with a sense of impossibility: I cannot live with You – It would be Life – And Life is over there – Behind the Shelf The Sexton keeps the Key to – Putting up Our Life – His porcelain - Like a Cup – Discarded of the Housewife – Quaint – or Broke – A newer Sevres pleases – Old Ones crack – Moving from the abstraction of the first four lines, the second and third stanzas enter into the domestic metaphor of china, which is described variously as discarded, broken, quaint, and cracked, put up on the shelf and forgotten. If life is "behind the shelf," it is completely outside the experience of the china, as is the speaker’s life. The power of the first line is temporarily muted, and the reader is similarly trapped inside a haunting verse of cups and shelves, eerie in their quietness. That the china is locked away by the Sexton, a representative of the official or practical face of religiosity, seems to imply that it is not only the domestic sphere that the speaker is trapped in, but also the binds of the church, or at least the administrative daily function of the church, which Dickinson viewed as being quite separate from the passion behind it.
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