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 —

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 —

They’d judge Us — How —
For You — served Heaven — You know,
Or sought to —
I could not —

Because You saturated Sight —
And I had no more Eyes
For sordid excellence
As Paradise

And were You lost, I would be —
Though My Name
Rang loudest
On the Heavenly fame —

And were You — saved —
And I — condemned to be
Where You were not —
That self — were Hell to Me —

So We must meet apart —
You there — I — here —
With just the Door ajar
That Oceans are — and Prayer —
And that White Sustenance —
Despair —

Analysis, meaning and summary of Emily Dickinson's poem I cannot live with You —


  1. Abi says:

    Personally, I think this poem is about a forbidden love.

  2. kalima says:

    this poem shows how deeply disturbed emily d was. she loves someone but she doesnt want to be with that person. theperson she is referring to obviously used to love her but wants to moveon to bigger and better things.

  3. Andrea says:

    I thought the entire poem was actually reffering to her relationship with Jesus or her religion. “I cannnot live with you…And life is over there behind the shelf” speaks of Jesus, and how the shelf, that normally holds man’s knowledge is what separates her and him. Then the sexton in the second stanza is talking about a church officer, saying that he has the control over the outcome of her life.

  4. Kim Loucks says:

    Has anyone read the “Scarlet Letter”? Doesn’t this poem just scream of Hester Prynne and her relationship with the minister Mr. Dimmesdale? I’m doing a paper on Dickinson as well, and relating some of her themes to other themes in American Literature, and I couldn’t help but notice how this poem could almost have been written to fit Hester’s situation.

  5. Chris says:

    Like many of Dickinson’s poems this one does not have a title. Many of her works were found after her death and she never really got published during her time. It was a habit for her to not name her poems though. This one has a number and it is 640.

  6. Alishia says:

    i think she should have named it differnetly.. i think it needs a title that fits it more jus not the first line that it has in the poem

  7. sarah says:

    I thought the post that said the lines “Nor could I rise w/you..” meant that Dickinson’s love for the man eclipsed everything was interesting. I took the lines to mean that she thought that the man she loved would be saved but she wouldn’t, since he was a priest and Dickinson had the feeling all of her live that she wouldn’t be a saved person despite the fact that she was religious. I also liked the interpretation of the housewife lines. I didn’t stop to think about that, Thanks!

  8. Amanda says:

    Does anyone know the actual title of this poem? Is it In Vain?

  9. Amber says:

    This poem is great! I think Emily is describing the love she knows can never develope between her and Rev. Wadsworth. My favorite part is the way she expresses her feelings about his wife. “…a newer sevres pleases, old ones crack” she compares herself to his wife as the new one and his wife as the old one that will crack! i love it!

  10. Amy Sechler says:

    Thank ya’ll so much. It’s 2:30 in the morning and I have this paper due in about 5 hours and I was having the hardest time figuring it out. Ya’lls comments have helped me tremendously.

  11. fei says:

    very touching poem in which lovers were separated by love

  12. Adam says:

    I think this poem is an amazing example of Emily Dickinson. This poem is about hows she is seperated from her lover becuase of one of them being a preist or in this poem she called him a “sexton”. Also, she is afraid to loose that person if she dies. In the seconds stanza i figured out that the cup she was refering to was really a metaphor for her heart and how fragile it was and such.

  13. Cassie says:

    The former comments helped me get a grasp on what Dickinson was saying. It seems to be one of Dickinson’s major paradoxes, not only as a writer, but as a person. Shutting herself off from the world, except a select few was her life. It seems that no matter how much she loved this man, she felt that they couldn’t be together and instead must walk seperately but side by side- as she says “so we must meet apart–
    you there– I– here–” Her life is as much a paradox as her poems.

  14. latreka says:

    she is in love with a man but they can’t be together . She afraid that one of them will die and parting would be painful.

  15. Kimberly says:

    My favorite poem by Ms Dickenson! She refuses to be with the person she loves, knowing that they will one day be parted when one of them dies. Ironically, she is just bringing the pain on sooner, without even allowing herself the joy of experiencing it first hand. I love the verse “Nor could I rise- with you…” I feel that she is saying that the one she loves eclipses everything- even her religion.

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