I Cannot Live With You by Emily Dickinson

“I Cannot Live With You” was published in 1890. Dickinson tries to communicate with her lover through this poem, and she reaches the conclusion that they should be apart because she sees him as this great being who is capable of anything and is to move onto Heaven once it’s the right time.

I Cannot Live With You


I cannot live with you,
It would be life,
And life is over there
Behind the shelfThe sexton keeps the key to,
Putting up
Our life, his porcelain,
Like a cup

Discarded of the housewife,
Quaint or broken;
A newer Sevres pleases,
Old ones crack.

I could not die with you,
For one must wait
To shut the other’s gaze down,
You could not.

And I, could I stand by
And see you freeze,
Without my right of frost,
Death’s privilege?

Nor could I rise with you,
Because your face
Would put out Jesus’.
That new grace

Glow plain and foreign
On my homesick eye,
Except that you, than he
Shone closer by.

Analysis of Dickinson’s “I Cannot Live with You”

In “I Cannot Live with You,” which was published in 1890, the speaker talks to her lover. This is a poem about a couple’s hopeless love story. It may relate to Dickinson’s real life since she did have a relationship with a man. Although it was never presented as more than a friendship, she did have a profound connection with someone and after he left, Dickinson went on to live in almost complete isolation and she never married.  The speaker gave up the best life she could have had because she wanted her lover to have the best life, since he died before her, and now, she cannot be with him ever again. She thinks she cannot be with him even in the hereafter, but this causes her to want to die, although she knows this will not solve her emotions.

Dickinson uses quite powerful imagery to get her point across. One line, “I cannot die with you, for one must wait to shut the others’ gaze down” shows that she is the only one who can shut his eyes, he cannot shut hers. However, once he passes away, she can no longer live. So, they cannot die together. Another line, “And were you saved. And I condemned to be where you were not, that self were hell to me,” explains that Dickinson wants the readers to picture a strong woman who whole-heartedly believes in Christ.

However, Dickinson tells the readers that if the speaker were saved and her lover was lost, she would be lost in hell without him, and if they were both saved but saved separately, then that would also mean hell for her. This is why her lover cannot live in hell with her.