by A. T. Miller
Study of "Sex Without Love" by Sharon Olds
|Sex Without Love
How do they do it, the ones who make love
without love? Beautiful as dancers,
gliding over each other like ice-skaters
over the ice, fingers hooked
inside each other's bodies, faces
red as steak, wine, wet as the
children at birth whose mothers are going to
give them away. How do they come to the
come to the come to the God come to the
still waters, and not love
the one who came there with them, light
rising slowly as steam off their joined
skin? These are the true religious,
the purists, the pros, the ones who will not
accept a false Messiah, love the
priest instead of the God. They do not
mistake the lover for their own pleasure,
they are like great runners: they know they are alone
with the road surface, the cold, the wind,
the fit of their shoes, their over-all cardio-
vascular health--just factors, like the partner
in the bed, and not the truth, which is the
single body alone in the universe
against its own best time.
(Public post, http://www.poemhunter.com/poem/sex-without-love/)
By Adrian T. Miller
Human existence is a liquid form where false shapes are assumed to settle the mindless fear of the unknowing. Sex is a fluid motion of flowing figures, used to bring the reader to the innermost truth of the human condition stripped of all its safety-conscious decoration. Sex in Sex Without Love is an allegory of life where only truth remains. We see this first in the narrative description of how the lovers interact.
The poet describes the lovers not as Nancy and Bob, but as beautiful dancers, individuals who have come together to explore a pleasurable activity. Like a problem in Algebra, it is not important who the lovers are, but that they exist and do what is required to make the point. The subject of the poem is sex devoid of attachment, but that is not the point. What the description achieves is to develop the subject. The lovers come together, do their business, and leave the watcher wondering at the lack of love. The poem then intensifies with further scrutiny of that lack.
Questioning the events of that momentary union brings necessary light to the subject, beginning the illuminatory process. “How do they come to the…still waters, and not love the one they came there with?” The reader does not yet know the reason behind the intercourse. He or she only knows at this moment that they have, and that the poet is puzzled by it. Whether or not the reader enjoys casual sex or abhors it is irrelevant. It must be questioned because the truth is at the heart of the poem, a truth that is greater than what is initially suggested.
The words of the poem, and the shape of the poem, seek to link each reader to its message. The line “…come to the come to the God come to the…” involves the reader in the lover’s climax, hitting a nerve that runs deep. Sex in the abstract is a notion of baseness or bliss, but partaking in the act, we are stripped ourselves to our most vulnerable. It is uncomfortable, an artificial state designed by the poet to prepare us for a greater revelation to be revealed. Sex is not the deepest desire of humankind, but a perfect metaphor for something greater upon which it depends.
The power of sex is great, because it is the one thing we each possess to one degree or another without inheritance or prosperity, just as rape is the most wicked form of theft. “These are the true religious, the purists, the pros, the ones who will not accept a false Messiah, the love of the priest instead of the God.” In sex, traditional love denies the worth of sex without forms of courtesy, consideration, and lasting affection. It makes trivial the fling as a thing for the wanton man or woman. Sex is fluid because it can happen regardless of love, but culture demands an attitude that is ever shifting. Life is fluid because it too happens regardless of love, and its shape is even harder to define. The lies we tell ourselves to keep from breaking down, our denials, overwhelm us. To know that we are alone within ourselves is to know that we are alone in the universe, and that is terrifying.
The message could be interpreted in many different aspects. It could be saying something strictly about the nature of modern religion, the church lacking the spirit of the divine for the letter of its law. It could have a farther reaching, Atheist, implication, suggesting that religion itself is but an untruth told to placate the fearful. Even deeper, it could attest that all substance is nothing but a collection of perceived realities that may or may not exist as seen through our own senses. In truth, the only common denominator of the poem is this, truth is covered by lie because we fear being alone. That is all I have to say on the matter.