Adrienne Rich

Living in Sin

Filed under: Uncategorized — ellenegr5 at 8:45 pm on Thursday, March 19, 2009

Living in Sin

By: Adrienne Rich


She had thought the studio would keep itself;

no dust upon the furniture of love. 

Half hersey, 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 among 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 a cigarettes;

while she, jeered by the mirror 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. 

In Adrienne Rich’s poem Living in Sin the speaker is torn between the reality of her relationship and what her mind creates. In reality she has lost the love of her boyfriend and is confined in a dusty, dirty, old home. Her life has lost the unpredictable and exciting joys of youth. Their replacement is routine. The speakers life has transformed from something crazy and maybe ‘sinful’ to mediocre and non-thrilling. According to Carol Irwin, author of Expectations Versus Reality in Relationships: Adrienne Rich’s “Living in Sin” the speaker is aware of her confines and wants to break them.

“The narrator’s motive in the relationship was initially the romantic desire to live with the man she loves, but eventually her motive is simply to bear the routine and break the now boring nature of the actual relationship.” 

Although she tries, breaking a mold as hard as the one encasing her is hard, especially without any help. The speakers boyfriend is stuck in a daily routine as well but doesn’t seem to have the desire to break out of it. He “shrugged at the mirror, rubbed his beard, went out for cigarettes;” The speaker talks of this as a daily pattern with her, at one time lover. 

Towards the end of the poem, in line 23 the speaker says “By evening she was back in love again,”. Irwin explains this as, 

“Evening approaches, the speaker finds that she has revived only some of her love for the man–a love that had diminished during the bright light of day.” 

But even though a small portion of this love has rekindled her daily routine life takes over and takes over any sense of recovery. 

“she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming

like a relentless milkman up the stairs.” 

Irwin, Carol. “Expectations Versus Reality in Relationships: Adrienne Rich’s “Living in Sin”.” Lone Star College North Harris. Lone Star College North Haris. 19 Mar. 2009 <>.



  1.    Jane Hazle — April 26, 2009 @ 9:02 pm   

    Good with explicating subject and theme and with finding a scholarly source. What about poetic devices? Language?

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