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Living in Sin

Living in Sin


by Adrienne Rich

Lines 15-26 Summary

Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.

Lines 15-18

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;

  • The man's yawn seems to suggest that he is more bored than bothered by the way they live.
  • And remember the piano from the beginning of the poem, that was the central piece of the unrealistically, perfectly put-together studio? Well here we find out that, in reality, it's out of tune.
  • The man notices this, but he merely shrugs and takes off, showing no indication that he plans to fix it (again, don't forget that the furniture of the studio is the "furniture of love," so this attitude also seems to apply to his involvement in his relationship).
  • And what exciting event has the man got planned? He's going to go buy cigarettes (don't do it, kids!), which is like saying that he's going to go watch paint dry. Ho-hum.

Lines 19-22

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.

  • These lines seem to contrast the woman's attitude with the man's.
  • While he merely shrugs at his reflection and leaves, she feels "jeered" by demons. In other words, she is much more bothered by the disarray she sees.
  • Of course, these are just "minor" demons. Even her personal crisis seems diminished and unimportant. Sheesh!
  • These lines show her attempting to clean things up by making the bed and dusting the table.
  • But clearly she is not making a huge effort either. The fact that she "found" a towel and dusted just one table-top almost suggests that the towel was conveniently lying around in front of her, so she used it, rather than that she actively looked for polish or a cleaning rag.
  • But it's an endless cycle, because, even while she was cleaning up one thing, another mess was being created as coffee spilled all over the stove.

Lines 23-26

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.

  • The cover of night seems to also hide the day-to-day reality of her relationship, and at night the woman can forget about all that is wrong and relive her fantasy.
  • Remember how we suggested earlier that the daylight and the milkman (and that pesky beetle) seem to be witnesses that illuminate how the woman actually lives? Well these lines seem to cinch up that idea. 
  • The fact that she felt in love again at night but seemed to dread the morning light and the milkman suggests that these two things are her daily, "relentless" reminders of reality. 
  • The speaker compares the daylight to the milkman, using a simile.
  • Also notice that the woman is "not so wholly" in love as she was before. It's like each day takes a little bit more of the wind out of her sails in terms of her love and happiness. Sad.
  • In the end, the woman is no longer able to sustain her unrealistic expectations, even in the cover of night, as her sleep is interrupted by the expectation of the day that will come and start the cycle all over again.

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