"Living in Sin" is an early-career poem by Adrienne Rich, first published in The New Yorker in 1954 and later collected in The Diamond Cutters and Other Poems (1955). It depicts a young woman "living in sin"—living together outside marriage—with a male partner in a dingy apartment. Her fantasy of a romantic bohemian lifestyle turns into a reality of daily drudgery, leaving her increasingly dissatisfied. The poem is a sharp portrait of romantic disillusionment, as well as a preview of the feminist themes that would define much of Rich's later work.
She had thought ...
... relieved of grime.
A plate of ...
... at his urging.
Not that at ...
... three sepulchral bottles;
that on the ...
... . . .
Meanwhile, he, with ...
... out for cigarettes;
while she, jeered ...
... on the stove.
By evening she ...
... up the stairs.
Select any word below to get its definition in the context of the poem. The words are listed in the order in which they appear in the poem.
An Interview with the Poet — Watch a 1973 interview with Adrienne Rich.
The Poet's Life — A biography of Adrienne Rich at the Poetry Foundation.
Rich and Feminism — An article on "Adrienne Rich's Feminist Awakening" in the late 1960s and early '70s.
Rich on Love and Power — The poet discusses power dynamics in romantic relationships.
More on Rich and Politics — An in-depth exploration of Rich's work as a political poet and essayist.
The Poet's Obituary — Read Rich's 2012 New York Times obituary.
1She had thought the studio would keep itself;
2no dust upon the furniture of love.
3Half heresy, to wish the taps less vocal,
4the panes relieved of grime. A plate of pears,
5a piano with a Persian shawl, a cat
6stalking the picturesque amusing mouse
7had risen at his urging.
8Not that at five each separate stair would writhe
9under the milkman's tramp; that morning light
10so coldly would delineate the scraps
11of last night's cheese and three sepulchral bottles;
12that on the kitchen shelf among the saucers
13a pair of beetle-eyes would fix her own—
14envoy from some village in the moldings . . .
15Meanwhile, he, with a yawn,
16sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard,
17declared it out of tune, shrugged at the mirror,
18rubbed at his beard, went out for cigarettes;
19while she, jeered by the minor demons,
20pulled back the sheets and made the bed and found
21a towel to dust the table-top,
22and let the coffee-pot boil over on the stove.
23By evening she was back in love again,
24though not so wholly but throughout the night
25she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming
26like a relentless milkman up the stairs.