[Skip Navigation]

Plagiarist Poetry Sites: Plagiarist.com | Poetry X | Poetry Discussion Forums | Open Poetry Project | Joycean.org
Enter our Poetry Contest
Win Cash and Publication!

Visitors' Comments about:

Living In Sin

Adrienne Rich

Add a new comment.

Added by: Dick
Living in Sin

First, the title: Living in Sin. General meaning is that the people are unmarried, sinning by loving without God's blessing. In this poem, it's not stated that they're unmarried, perhaps they are, but the sin is in not loving one another.

She had thought the studio would keep itself; >no dust upon the furniture of love.

The "had thought" sets the tone of the entire poem. Obviously there was a shift in perspective FROM before moving in to after. She thought there would be no work involved, that life would be a happily ever after in a fairytale castle ("furniture of love"). Come to find out, she needs to keep up the studio, and work at her marriage (one would imagine a studio apartment - one big room, no separation or privacy). Also, it means that their love is no clean thing, no purity involved here.

Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal, the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears, a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat stalking the picturesque amusing mouse had risen at his urging.

I would say that "taps" is the water tap (faucet) dripping, "panes" are the panes of glass. Heresy against God. People aren't supposed to wish for a different life if they're with the one they love - it's supposed to be a blissful forever. She is wishing for a lack of something, whereas he conjures up stuff out of poetry - a piano with expensive cloth, a cat, and a still life of fruit. Particularly, the cat is stalking - harsh wording - a cute little mouse - gentle fairytale image. See later how images of prosperity (stairs up, cheese) are beaten down -- the stairs write under the milkman's feet, the sunlight is cold and comes relentlessly. Her whole fantasy world is getting eaten up by this cat of his.

Not that at five each separate stair would writhe under the milkman's tramp; that morning light so coldly would delineate the scraps of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles; that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own -- envoy FROM some village in the moldings...

"Not that" refers back to her wish for the beautiful life and she never thought that this would be her reality, the laundry list of frustrations, FROM waking at five to a stranger's violent (the stairs' "writhing") tromp to the sepulchral (graveyard) bottles and leftover cheese. The food is a remnant of last night's romantic meal (see forward to the "back in love again" that would lead to more wine and cheese), but she has to clean up on the following day. No one mentions that Cinderella has to do dishes -after- the wedding. The bug is definitely not a figure in a person's wishes for marriage.

Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,

sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard, declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror, rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;

This is the introduction of the husband. While we are processing the previous lines, while she has been pondering this harsh reality, he has been getting up, groggily. The piano (summoned by him) is declared out of tune - just like their love - not only is there grime on her windows, the magic has fled FROM his items as well. Comparatively, each of his items are dingy: the food (then pears, now cheese) is crumbly, the animal (then cat, now bug) is hiding in the wall.

He looks in the mirror and is indifferent to what he sees. See also her poem "Moving in Winter" for the line, "mirrors grey with reflecting them"

He leaves her, for the trivial cigarettes (at 5am?!).

while she, jeered by the minor demons, pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found a towel to dust the table-top, and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.

While she is thinking all this, he is getting up and leaving. While he is leaving, she is getting up and tidying up the house, keeping up the appearance that everything is wonderful. But it's not. By evening she was back in love again, though not so wholly but throughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs.

In love isn't loving someone, and her feeling isn't complete either. In the night, she wakes with the dread that the milkman today exemplified - that the coming day and every day thereafter will wake her with dread; she will wake to face a grubby man, grimy windows, dusty piano, and yesterday's food. Certainly not living with the blessings of God.

slightly different interpretation
Added by: A
I agree with the analysis that the basic gist is that the poem is about a woman coming to the painful realization that her marriage is not the blissful forever that it ought to have been.

Maybe the studio apartment is like a still life and she's cleaning it up, part of a passionless routine, but the "minor demon" is something far more than mere dissatisfaction with the marriage. She feels guilty about not being happy, yes, but she "turns back the sheets" only after the husband leaves. She has been unfaithful, and the changing of the sheets, the unveiling of the secret, is what preoccupies her. She's preoccupied enough to let the coffee burn over on the stove; this is a sexual image, the overflowing and the heat. It is brewing in the back of her mind while she does all these routine cleaning chores. The sin is the infidelity and it's in the guilt FROM not living in the present and not being in love with the husband, who's indifferent.

The milkman referred to is definitely someone's infidelity.
Added by: Carly Durston
As I was reading the comments posted for the poem "Living in Sin", I thought it important to point out that the speaker is not actually the woman spoken of in the poem. The speaker is narrating the events in this couples life. One could argue that the speaker is a woman due to the tone. We the reader, feel the connection the speaker has with the woman. The focus on the domestic as well as the negative/disconnected description of the husband supports this theory as well.
Added by: Ashley
I think that in order to understand this poem better, it helps to look at it in the context of Adrienne Rich's life. She wrote this not long after she was married, and I think it certainly expresses the frusteration she was feeling with herself for not finding the satisfaction in her marriage that she expected. I'm not sure that the milkman represents a literal infidelity so much as the disloyalty she feels towards her husband for these feelings. She isn't happy with her role as the woman and therefore the caretaker of her home, and she's not happy with her husband, though she's not really sure why. I think this poem is definitely rooted in Rich's biography and expresses what she was going through at this time in her life.
Added by: Tegray
Equally ,you could argue the man is not her partner, and she lives alone, being only visited in the studio by the man, and kept also by him. Which would explain her mondane outlook on a boring existence being woke by the milk delivery , which signifies the end of her night. Who else but a visitor would sound notes on the keyboard , declare it out of tune? Evening, back in love and but significally alone , waking, during the night .
Added by: frank the tank
I agree with what is said and this peom is by far the best peom i have ever read.

Shout out to jane and joe whos trapt in the middle of the atlantic . . . wut up homies. Knibb High Football Rules! PEACE
Added by: Nate
In this poem the "beetle eyes" repersents the eyes of people watching her a judging her sin. she has found her hushand to be a bore and desires the milkman, she awakes everytime she heards the footsteps on the door step at five. she is letting her marriage slip away and she is letting the apartment go to ruins. the repetition of the word cheese shows that the women is lactose intolerate.

» Add a new comment.

« Return to the poem page.