Nov 8, 2017 in Literature

Poem Comparison Analysis: “Living in Sin” by Adrienne Rich and “A Supermarket in California” by Allen Ginsberg


In the poem “Living in Sin”, Rich examines the life of a couple living together yet conduct their lives separately. This is due to love the husband has for his musical composition life. While the husband is busy composing musical notes, his wife is left unattended, which makes her vulnerable to desperation. The persona is somehow angry by the manner in which she lives her life without any form of love from her partner. From the look of the matter, it seems that the studio has taken much of her husband’s time hence her scornful attitude towards it. In the first line of the 1st stanza, the poet writes: “She had had thought the studio would keep itself; / no dust upon the furniture of love” (1-2). This is an introductory phrase into the cold lives of the couple. The wife’s daily routine becomes a monotony thus making her tired, since she does not look forward to the new days. In the last line of the 1st stanza, the poet writes: “she woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming / like a relentless milkman up the stairs” (25-26).

On the other hand, in the poem “A Supermarket in California”, Ginsberg writes about the “soul-life” of both Walt Whitman and the persona. The two meet at the supermarket where different families have converged for shopping activities. While husbands and their families came together in order to undertake the activity, both the persona and Walt Whitman did not have people to accompany them.

Another difference is that there are also significant levels of rhythm that have been used distinctively in both poems. This has been attained by the formidable arrangement of stanzas and lines. While in the poem “Living in Sin” only a single stanza with 26 lines has been used, in the poem “A Supermarket in California” the poet has used four stanzas. This difference in the arrangement of words has been used as a tool to depict the different events that precede each other. Due to this manner, it is safe to postulate that the poets used it to create a rhythm that depicted lives of the persona and in respect to their feelings towards their husbands.


First, both of the poems revolve around similar social issue, namely loneliness. In the poem “Living in Sin”, the persona is depicted as overlooked by her husband who spends most of his time making musical composition at the expense of his wife’s time and love for him. He does not care that his wife remains lonely, while he is busy writing musical notes.  In the 15th line of the first stanza, the wife says about him: “meanwhile, he with a yawn/ sounded a dozen notes upon the keyboard” (15-16).

In the poem “A Supermarket in California”, the poet uses both the persona and a third party in order to showcase the manner, for which loneliness has diminished their sense of living. Both the persona and Walt Whitman are lonely individuals with no people to accompany them into the supermarket. In the second stanza, the poet writes: “I saw you, Walt Whitman, childless, lonely old-grubber” (10). “Ah, dear father, graybeard, lonely old-courage teacher” (30). These words have been used separately to indicate the challenge faced by the couples as well as those not in relationships. It shows the loneliness the individuals are subjected to at the expense of seeking love or attention, as in the case of the wife in the poem “Living in Sin”.

Second, both of the poets have deployed elements of imagery throughout the poem in order to assist the affected individuals in escaping from the real-life hurdles they are facing, and thus enjoy some comfort. In the last line of the first stanza of the poem “Living in Sin” the poet writes: “She woke sometimes to feel the daylight coming / like a relentless milkman up the stairs” (25-26). This imagery has been used to protect the wife from the challenge she faced every morning. She does not receive adequate levels of love and attention from her husband. Consequently, her husband seems to be in love with the studio where he spends most of his time at the expense of his wife’s love. The wife thinks of a “relentless milkman” who is perhaps friendlier and understanding as compared to her husband. In the poem “A Supermarket in California”, the persona retorts about the images of peaches and penumbras in an effort to take both his and the reader’s mind away from the happy families shopping within the confinements of the supermarket. The poet writes: “what peaches and what penumbras” (6).This tool has been used effectively by the poets in order to provide room for consolation.

Third, the poets have used diction as a stylistic device. This device has been used extensively within these poems in order to reveal the true and fair feelings of the personae in respect to their solitude lives. In the poem “A Supermarket in California”, such words as “solitary”, “streets”, “lonely”, and “old-grubber” have been used throughout the poem to showcase the levels of desperation for both the persona and Walt Whitman. In the poem “Living in Sin”, the poet uses such words as “relieved of grime”, “coldly”, and “minor demons” to showcase the negative feelings the wife possesses towards her husband and his studio.

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