Classic English Literature
We are dealing with a poem “Sex Without Love”, written by an American Pulitzer Prize-winning poet Sharon Olds in 1984.
This poem dramatizes the conflict between sex based on love and sex without love.
For the speaker, love and sex are viewed as something that necessarily has to be connected, and in the phrase “make love without love” the evident contradiction is suggested.
As Sophia Lauren said, “Sex is like washing your face - just something you do because you have to. Sex without love is absolutely ridiculous. Sex follows love, it never precedes it”.
This poem sounds like a heart-cry of a human shocked but the modern values of casual relations not founded on love and feelings. Written in the 1980’s, the poems depicts the era started by the hippie movement and developed later, when love was displaced by chaotic sex relationships and one-night stands.
There are evidences that the poet was abused as a child: according to Brouwer (2009) "Olds selects intense moments from her family romance — usually ones involving violence or sexuality or both — and then stretches them in opposite directions, rendering them in such obsessive detail that they seem utterly unique to her personal experience, while at the same time using metaphor to insist on their universality". An interesting fact is that in many other poems, not only the given one, Olds refers to the topic of sex.
The usage of the word “they” implies that the writer is only an onlooker, whose own personal views and values are nothing compared to those being watched.
In the first lines of the poem we can see that those making love are being compared to dancers and ice-skaters. And even though both dancing and ice-skating may be a beautiful artistic act, there appears an image of somebody who is simply doing their job for the sake of performance or even certain benefits.
In the phrase “gliding over each other” the word “gliding” may be viewed as a symbolic one as one of the initial meanings of this word in the dictionary is “to move quietly or stealthily or without being noticed”. This may imply the idea that those having love without sex are flown by the wind, or accidental relationships, not their own wings, or feelings.
“Fingers hooked inside each other's bodies”, in addition to describing a possible sexual act, may also deliver the image of a bait caught on a hook. Other possible meanings depicted but the word “hooked” might be a hooker – a woman, whose sexual relations are not connected to the true feelings.
Comparing people to steak is one more evidence of the poet’s disapproval: she is speaking of those people as of animals. Moreover, they are dead animals, without any feelings. The word “wine” may be an image of intoxication, which very often becomes the reason of the majority of sexual relations.
On the other hand, the image of steak and wine brings us to the image of a romantic date, which, even if being in place of the given relationship, may simply be a formality.
“Wet as the children at birth whose mothers are going togive them away” is a line implying various images. First of all, the word “wet” presupposes an unpleasant feeling, something hasty. And the second part brings up the image of lacking bonds: just as mothers give their children away, those having sex will gradually part as well.
One of the emotionally strongest parts – “How do they come to thecome to the come to the God” is an incontestable resemblance with feeling orgasm knowing one of the meanings of the word “to come”. The word “God” mentioned here may as well create an image of a person being aroused by the feeling of orgasm and screaming the name of God, which is known to be one of the sins as according to the Ten Commandments given in Exodus 2:70 “Thou shalt not take the name of the Lord thy God in vain”.
Hooked fingers are used here as an opposite of holding hands, which is usually a symbol of romantic relationships and love.
The poet addresses religion more than once: in such words as God, Messiah, priest we feel the dissonance between loveless sex and spirituality.
Speaking about loving the priest more that loving God, the poet creates a vision of something false and unworthy. It is known that in religion God is the absolute and priests are only the secondary sources of faith, which means that those having sex without love are not aiming for the elevated feelings but are happy with something low.
Even the way the poems looks on paper creates an image of something that is in disorder: all the lines have a different length, short ones are changed by long ones and vice versa. Sexual relations shown by the poet, just like the lines, are also in disorder.
On the phonetic level, there is a doubtless evidence of consonance – repetition of the “s”, which imitates hissing. This sound creates an image of animals, not humans.
There is hardly any rhyme in the poem, and the rhythm seems to be rather abrupt. While reciting the poem out loud, the reader may have a feeling of somebody panting and breaking a sentence in the middle.
Such contradiction as “alone in the universe” generate a feeling of loneliness. And the fact that this phrase appears at the very end of the poem, may imply that sex without love will inevitably lead to solitude.
The whole poem, in every of its lines, creates a sour feeling of shame and desperation and the general mood of it is rather negative and pessimistic. This can be explained by the fact that the author of the poem herself was sexually abused as a child and is trying to deliver the message that loveless sex is an unworthy act.
"glide." Dictionary.com Unabridged. Random House, Inc. 21 Jun. 2015. <Dictionary.com http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/glide>.
Brouwer, Joel. "Poetry Chronicle." The New York Times. The New York Times, 25 Apr. 2009. Web. 21 June 2015. <http://www.nytimes.com/2009/04/26/books/review/Brouwer-t.html?_r=0>.
"Sophia Loren." BrainyQuote.com. Xplore Inc, 2015. 21 June 2015. http://www.brainyquote.com/quotes/quotes/s/sophialore127248.html