"You and I" Poem by Voltairine de Cleyre, Analysis, Summary, Themes & Style

"You and I" is a poem by Voltairine de Cleyre, an American anarchist and feminist writer, poet, and activist. The poem is a reply to "You and I in the Golden Weather" by Dyer D. Lum, a fellow anarchist and friend of de Cleyre. In her poem, de Cleyre reflects on the enduring power of love and solidarity in the face of hardship, struggle, and death. The poem speaks to the anarchistic belief in the strength of human relationships and the potential for radical change through collective action.

YOU AND I by Voltairine de Cleyre

(A reply to "You and I in the Golden Weather," by Dyer D. Lum.)

You and I, in the sere, brown weather,
When clouds hang thick in the frowning sky,
When rain-tears drip on the bloomless heather,
Unheeding the storm-blasts will walk together,
And look to each other—You and I.

You and I, when the clouds are shriven
To show the cliff-broods of lightnings high;
When over the ramparts, swift, thunder-driven,
Rush the bolts of Hate from a Hell-lit Heaven,
Will smile at each other—You and I.

You and I, when the bolts are falling,
The hot air torn with the earth's wild cries,
Will lean through the darkness where Death is calling,
Will search through the shadows where Night is palling,
And find the light in each other's eyes.

You and I, when black sheets of water
Drench and tear us and drown our breath,
Below this laughter of Hell's own daughter,
Above the smoke of the storm-girt slaughter,
Will hear each other and gleam at Death.

You and I, in the gray night dying,
When over the east-land the dawn-beams fly,
Down in the groans, in the low, faint crying,
Down where the thick blood is blackly lying,
Will reach out our weak arms, You and I.

You and I, in the cold, white weather,
When over our corpses the pale lights lie,
Will rest at last from the dread endeavor,
Pressed to each other, for parting—never!
Our dead lips together, You and I.

You and I, when the years in flowing
Have left us behind with all things that die,
With the rot of our bones shall give soil for growing
The loves of the Future, made sweet for blowing
By the dew of the kiss of a last good-bye!

Analysis of the Poem

"You and I" by Voltairine de Cleyre is a powerful and emotional poem that explores the themes of love, unity, and mortality. The poem is a response to Dyer D. Lum's "You and I in the Golden Weather," which suggests a more idealistic view of love. However, Cleyre's poem is more realistic and portrays love in the face of adversity.

The first stanza sets the tone for the poem, with the speaker and their loved one walking together in bad weather, showing that they will be there for each other even in difficult times. In the second stanza, the speaker and their loved one smile at each other in the face of a storm, suggesting that they will face challenges together without fear.

The third stanza takes a darker turn as the speaker describes the two of them facing death and finding comfort in each other's eyes. The fourth stanza continues this theme, with the speaker and their loved one facing a literal drowning and still finding hope in each other's presence.

The fifth stanza is perhaps the most powerful, with the two facing their own mortality and reaching out to each other in the face of death. The sixth stanza suggests that their love will last even beyond death, as they will be together forever, even in the afterlife.

The final stanza is a hopeful note, as the speaker suggests that their love will live on and nourish future generations even after they have passed away. The poem is a beautiful expression of the power of love in the face of adversity and the universality of human mortality.

Summary of the Poem

Stanza 1: The speaker starts the poem by addressing a second person, using the title of the poem as a refrain. The two of them are walking together in "sere, brown weather" where the clouds are thick and the sky is frowning. Rain tears are falling on the barren heather, but the speaker suggests that they will face the storm blasts together, unheeding the turmoil around them.
Stanza 2: The second stanza describes a more intense storm. The clouds have been "shriven" (split open) to reveal the high cliff-broods of lightning. Thunderbolts, symbolic of hate, rush down from the heavens as if from Hell. Despite the danger and tumult, the speaker says they will smile at each other.
Stanza 3: In this stanza, the storm is reaching its peak, and the danger is more immediate. The bolts of lightning are falling, and the air is hot and torn with the earth's wild cries. However, the two will lean towards each other and search through the shadows, finding light in each other's eyes.
Stanza 4: The fourth stanza describes a flood. The speaker uses imagery of "black sheets of water" that drench and tear the two of them and threaten to drown their breath. But even in the midst of "Hell's own laughter," they will hear each other and "gleam at Death."
Stanza 5: This stanza describes the aftermath of the storm, with the two of them dying in the gray night. As they reach their last moments, they will reach out to each other with weak arms, as they have throughout their lives.
Stanza 6: In the final moments, as they die, they will rest together and be pressed to each other, never to part. Even in death, their love will be a source of growth and life for the future, giving "soil for growing/The loves of the Future, made sweet for blowing/By the dew of the kiss of a last good-bye!"
Stanza 7: The final stanza echoes the title and refrain of the poem, with the speaker once again addressing the second person as "You and I." The two of them will always be together, even as their bones rot and give rise to new life. Their love will be eternal.

Major Themes

The themes present in the poem "You and I" by Voltairine de Cleyre are:
  • Love and Death: The poem explores the relationship between love and death, portraying how even in the face of death, the love between two people can remain strong and unbroken.
  • Unity and Solidarity: The poem emphasizes the power of unity and solidarity in the face of adversity. The speaker and their beloved face the storms of life together, finding strength in each other.
  • Time and Mortality: The theme of time and mortality is present in the poem as the speaker reflects on the inevitability of death and the fleeting nature of life. However, the speaker also suggests that their love will live on beyond their physical bodies, as they become part of the soil that nourishes future generations.
  • Natural Imagery: The use of natural imagery in the poem, such as clouds, rain, lightning, and heather, creates a sense of the inevitability and power of nature, which is contrasted with the fragility of human life.
  • Romanticism: The poem is characterized by elements of romanticism, such as the emphasis on emotion and the idealization of love, as well as the use of imagery and symbolism to convey deeper meanings.

    To sum up, the poem "You and I" explores the power of love and unity in the face of death and the inevitability of mortality.


    The style of "You and I" by Voltairine de Cleyre is characterized by its use of vivid and powerful imagery, as well as its use of repetition and parallelism. The poem creates a strong emotional impact through its portrayal of two people facing the challenges and tragedies of life together, and their unwavering commitment to each other. The use of repetition, particularly in the refrain "You and I," emphasizes the unity and solidarity of the two people in the face of adversity. The use of parallelism, such as in the repetition of the phrase "Will [verb] at each other," further emphasizes this sense of unity and strengthens the overall structure of the poem. Additionally, the poem makes use of a consistent rhyme scheme, with each stanza following an ABABCC pattern, which adds to the musicality of the poem and creates a sense of continuity and coherence.

    Literary Devices

    The poem "You and I" by Voltairine de Cleyre makes use of various literary devices to convey its themes and ideas. Here are a few examples:
  • Imagery: The poem makes use of vivid imagery to evoke the various scenarios and emotions depicted in each stanza. For example, the "sere, brown weather" and "rain-tears" in the first stanza create a desolate and melancholic image. Similarly, the "black sheets of water" in the fourth stanza and the "cold, white weather" in the penultimate stanza paint a picture of extreme weather conditions.
  • Metaphor: The poem uses the metaphor of a storm to represent the challenges and hardships of life. The "storm-blasts" and "bolts of Hate" in the second stanza, for instance, can be interpreted as obstacles and difficulties that test the strength of the relationship between the two people.
  • Personification: In the fourth stanza, the poem personifies Hell by referring to it as "Hell's own daughter" and giving it the ability to laugh. This adds a sinister and eerie quality to the image of the storm.
  • Repetition: The repeated use of the phrase "You and I" throughout the poem serves as a refrain that reinforces the idea of the two people being united in the face of adversity.
  • Symbolism: The final stanza of the poem makes use of the symbol of soil to represent the potential for growth and renewal. The "rot of our bones" is presented as a necessary precursor to the "loves of the Future" that will bloom from it.

    Overall, the poem's use of literary devices adds depth and richness to its themes of love, loyalty, and perseverance in the face of hardship.
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