She had thought the studio would keep itself;
no dust upon the furniture of love.
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.
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 amoong the saucers
a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own–
envoy from some village in the moldings…
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;
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.
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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of the poem by

17 Comments

  1. Jeff says:

    This poem is an anti feminist piece that discusses the seven deadly sins from the bible. The anti feministness comes from the fact that this girl knowing that her life could be better, but she does nothing to change it.

    Most feminist papers portray a woman as helpless and oppressed by men. While it would appear that she is being oppressed my the “artist”, in reality she causes all of her own pain and trauma.

    Three of the seven deadly sins can easily be found here; including gluttony (the empty bottles), lust (this one is obvious), and sloth (the lack of effort to keep her apartment or lifestyle clean)

  2. Jeff says:

    This poem is an anti feminist piece that discusses the seven deadly sins from the bible. The anti feministness comes from the fact that this girl knowing that her life could be better, but she does nothing to change it.

    Most feminist papers portray a woman as helpless and oppressed by men. While it would appear that she is being oppressed my the “artist”, in reality she causes all of her own pain and trauma.

    Three of the seven deadly sins can easily be found here; including gluttony (the empty bottles), lust (this one is obvious), and sloth (the lack of effort to keep her apartment or lifestyle clean)

  3. ~lovely~ says:

    Every critical reader may see the imagery and diction in the words of Rich that enables the reader to see the woman as the wretch in a life of irresistible passion but the surface of the poem, including its symbols, says more to the reader than over analyzing the space between the lines. The women is the milk, the guy is the milkman. The milk always comes when expected. The milk is always available. The milkman doesn’t have to do anything exciting to get the milk. The milkman doesn’t have to buy to the cow to get the milk. This milkman gets his milk from a source that works like a machine that gives him milk when he says “come.” The girl is the “amusing mouse”; the guy is the cat. The mouse is amused by the chase; the guy chases the mouse by “his urging.” This poem is about woman with a possible Christian background that enjoys her routine life of sinful passion rather than a routine life of pure loneliness.

  4. Anonymous says:

    The poem is a collection of broken pictures–broken syntactically or psychologically. Putting them together is to find out the nature of this relationship. The “sin” is this sort of futile forward momentum they both are caught up in. The milkman is the coming day or just anothera lover who might bring the same to the relationship with her as the present one does. A very depressing piece of aart this!

  5. fadi shaya says:

    This poem was great. I loved the topic.

  6. Kenny says:

    This poem isn’t just about “foregoing the chores.” This poem is a reality check. First, there’s no mention of the two being a married couple, and I don’t believe they are. However, they are living together–a woman with an artist–and how the realty of living with an artist is completely the opposite of the woman’s romantic fantasy. The house is filthy. The windows are grimy. There’s old food on the countertops. The taps leak. There are bugs everywhere. The outside stairs are creaky. The artist himself, an unshaven slob, wakes up, taps a few keys on the piano and goes to buy cigarettes while the woman realizes her ideal (the “artist cliches” like a bowl of pears, a Persian rug and the house somehow keeping itself) is just a lie. The end of the poem–“..throughout the night she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming like a relentless milkman up the stairs”–is her gradual realization that these romantic dreams of living with an artist are absolutely wrong.

  7. Lonnie says:

    I am looking for information on a poet from early 1900’s. May have done some work for or with Victor C. Anderson artist and Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. I am also looking for more information on Alfred S. Campbell Art Co. Possibly all come out of New Jersey area. Elizabeth NJ perhaps? In particular, I am looking for the date of poem called “Losted” by Burges Johnson. Thank you.

  8. haoraniscool says:

    With anxiety and some precaution, Adrienne Rich presents an image with multiple meanings. Her ability to present thoughts in such a precise manner allows the reader to envision possible interpretations and, yet, to focus, finally, on the main point she makes: A woman bound to her husband feels, by forces beyond her control, the need of a frequent visitor.

    Rich, with delicate hints, enters the evil which encompasses the sin insinuated throughout the poem. The reader stands aside with the “approacher” and peeks in through grimey panes. He does his bidding and departs, leaving the woman but a memory to recognize him when he comes again. Meanwhile the husband’s unaware figure is present and then is not. The woman must make haste of what she has formed–an evil dust on “the furniture of love.”

    A boiling pot of coffee on the stove signifies normalcy, but the woman is caught in a twister of emotions. Mate or milkman? Two different loves overwhelm her. Only one steals her from her slumber. She is controlled by lustful demons she does not wish to rebuke. In a battle of soul and flesh, Rich emphasizes the dominance of the flesh in a story, unfortunately, too commonly known.

  9. Stanselmon says:

    This poem is a shear masterpiece in its own time, depicting early 1960 life in Shippawee, Illinois, where it was considered illegal to be living together without a marriage license. The boldness of the poem, the actions of the characters, the cheese and empty bottles, paints the clearest picture of the hardships of this troubling time period.

  10. Mark says:

    This poem represents a woman who has to live with the consequences of bad choices made soley on desire over logic. She sees the real and does nothing about it. The title of the poem relates to the time this poem was written. IN the 1950’s, to live with someone of the opposite sex and not be married was looked down on.She was so excited to move in with this slob of a man that she was willing to settle for less.For her, a new day is one of emotional pain.She moved in only at his “urging” but he never made any promises so in a way she deserves what she gets.

  11. Amie says:

    The poem address the discrepancies in the “ideal” of love and the reality in which Rich’s characters are living. It is obvious that the woman longs for the picture which was “risen at his urging” but instead is disappointed by the their actual situation. At night the couple can indulge in romantic endeavors but the rising of the day always sheds light on reality. The characters are “living in sin” among false and fallen hopes.

  12. Melissa says:

    These two people are “Living in sin” because they are living together without marriage. I believe that when they are in their apartment they are out of the real world. She doesn’t think about what needs to be done around the house because she is caught up in their love. When the milk man comes up the stairs it is bringing them back to reality!!

  13. Cheryl says:

    The poem is about a woman sruggling to maintain contentedness living the life of a homemaker. We are given all the tedious details of her day, so slow it goes that she can having a staring war with a beetle hiding among the saucers. During the day she wonders why it is she is living this life for a man that is not there. Instead of the beauty she thought her home would have because of love, dirt still builds up and she finds herself wondering what motivation she has to clean it. At night when he returns her work is justified suddenly, and there is the love and beauty of life, but it seems to be fading and beginning to fall into doubt. At night she feels the daylight coming in, a representation of the true daytime when her doubt is strongest and love does not seem to exist in her home.

  14. erin says:

    “Living in Sin” is a poem about the morning that comes after the dream of ‘happily ever after’. The couple Rich introduces is characterized by the objects in the apartment. The studio apartment symbolizes the hearts of the lovers. It has become the taunting reminder of what happens to the fairy tale when confronted with dirty dishes and grocery lists. The female speaker rfers to the act of noticing the disarray of the place as, “Half heresy”. This is the feeling that to notice any flaw in the love is to discredit it entirely. He, on the other hand seems much less consciously aware of the predicament. Yet, certain actions of his tell his faded affection for the idea of the love affair. The piano reference is particularly poignant. “declared it out of tune, shrugged at teh mirror”. The piano’s dischord is the song of the studio and their love. It is there to be touched and known, but has none of the melody that love once promised. The mirror symbolizes the self examination he wishes not to attempt. He frowns because it is clear that things are not as they were. But he walks off because it is easier. The poem ends with the woman acknowledgeing that every night she is revived enough to keep on going as they are. But, the beauty of this conclusion is that she is never brought back to that love they had planned. The dream once faded cannot be revisited. One is only able to just barely recall the shapes and colors and something of the way it felt, but the daytime is so much at hand that it smears and rubbs away the night’s memory. She wakes up every morning able to move through teh motions of their life but never able to catch sight of what was supposed to have been. This poem is a sharp and visual portrait of the realities of everyday as they replace the imagined romantics of fantasy and youth.

  15. Sam says:

    It’s about economic instability in the African national of Zimbabwe cleverly metaphorated in a prose unsurpassed by only Marcel Prouse’s rhetorical concerning the Chinese Pig Racing scandal of 1923.

  16. Cormac Parle says:

    I would have thought this poem was about how life is an everyday thing, with everyday chores and ups and downs, and no love, no matter how all-consuming, is going to change that reality

  17. Anne Rice says:

    Obviously, the relationship goes nowhere because he is a homosexual. It is almost akin to the life of Cole Porter and his lovely (or delovely) wife. The poem makes the same transition as she does in her own life. At first, she is reminiscent about the furniture of love; however, she becomes agitated when making the bed because of an unconsummated love, yet at the end of the day, she realizes this is still her life partner. It is a tragic tale at best of unrequited love (perhaps, one should address the author’s own life as a comparison) -Anne

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