Sex without Love

Just Sex, Nothing Else “How do they do it, the ones who make love/ without love” (Olds, 1-2)? As time goes on, the value of love and intimacy in sex diminishes further and further. In the past, becoming intimate with another person had very strong meaning and was frowned upon outside of marriage. Although there are still people who value sex in its purist form and value the meaning of the action, more people desire only the pleasure that comes from sex instead of the love and connection that it creates.
In “Misery and Splendor” by Robert Hass and “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds, both poets present the idea that having sex without love is hard to grasp and ultimately dissatisfying. Hass and Olds argue this idea through the use of imagery and tone. Poets and authors are very careful with the words they choose to be in their pieces. Authors most often paint a verbal picture for the reader that reinforces his or her underlying argument. In “Misery and Splendor” and “Sex Without Love,” both Hass and Olds create very vivid imagery for their readers to create certain visuals while reading.
In “Misery and Splendor,” Hass describes the man and woman as “trying to become one creature/ and something will not have it” (13-14). With this description, Robert Hass explains to the reader that the two people in his poem are trying to find love in their physical intimacy, but there remains another unknown force preventing them from finding this love. Hass also paints the image of this relationship being somewhat animalistic. “So they rub against each other/ their mouths dry, then wet, then dry” (17-18).

This image does not create a lovely, romantic scene like sex is most often thought to be. Instead, Hass refers that the two people become intimate in a brutish way. By doing this, Hass makes the point that the man and woman are becoming intimate in the physical manner instead of the emotional manner. Hass ends the poem by stating that the two are “huddled against the gate of a garden/ to which they can’t admit they can never be admitted” (23-24). This image gives the reader the image that the couple is waiting for something, but will never be able to find what they are waiting for.
These two people are having sex in search for love; however, by strictly becoming physically intimate, they are disappointed by never finding the love they desire. The physical qualities of sex do not come hand-in-hand with the emotional qualities that this couple desires. By making the couple wait for this love after they become intimate, Hass demonstrates that he believes the love must be present before the intimacy and sex can happen between two people.
Not only does Hass use imagery in his work, Sharon Olds creates very strong imagery in “Sex Without Love” to demonstrate the same concept as Hass, which is that sex without love is very disappointing and a hard concept to understand. However, Olds uses a slightly different approach with the imagery in her poem. Throughout the poem, Sharon Olds creates imagery that is very ironic for the reader. The images she creates are meant to be beautiful actions; however, Olds represents them in quite the opposite way.
They are “wet as the/ children at birth whose mothers are going to/ give them away” (6-8). When a mother gives birth to a child, it is most popularly known as the best day of the mother’s life. The occasion is a very happy and celebratory time. However, in the poem, Olds paints the picture of a mother giving her child away. She uses this image to enforce that sex without love could have repercussions that are very negative. Although sex may have physical benefits, it also comes with consequences as well. Olds also depicts these people as 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” (18-21). Although the people that choose to be intimate without pairing it with love know that they are alone, they do not seem to care. They are like runners; they want the physical aspects of the action but nothing else. Olds also states that the people like runners “know they are alone” (18). This depicts that these people believe they are capable of doing things on their own, without help.
They see their partner as a factor that helps them achieve the goal that they desire. When these people have this viewpoint, Olds describes them as “a single body in the universe/ against its own best time” (23-24). Until these independent, do-it-yourself people realize that a single person cannot achieve love, Olds claims that the search for the love and intimacy that two individuals share remains to be a very lonely and dissatisfying time. Not only do these poets create vivid imagery, both Hass and Olds also form ery distinct tones throughout their poems to convey this thought that love cannot be achieved through sex alone. “Summoned by conscious recollection, she/ would be smiling, they might be in a kitchen talking/ before or after dinner” (Hass, 1-3). The first three lines set an important tone to this poem “Misery and Splendor”. In these first lines, Hass claims that the man and woman are conscious of what should be happening. They both know that if they shared love, they would be happy and having a good conversation after dinner.
Instead, “they are in this other room/ the window has many small panes, and they are on a couch/ embracing” (3-5). Hass compares what they should be doing to what they are actually doing to set this yearning tone that makes the couple seem desperate. They are desperate to find this love between them; however, the love is not reachable. “The light in the room/ does not change” (11-12). This statement also creates a somewhat dark and negative tone. By stating that the light stays the same, it seems as though nothing else emotionally between the couple changes either.
This dark and unpleasant tone that Hass depicts throughout the poem also reinforces his argument that trying to find love by performing the act of sex alone will be extremely disappointing. Although the man and woman are being intimate with one another, the disappointment still lingers throughout them. “They are tender/ with each other, afraid/ their brief, sharp cries will reconcile them to the moment/ when they fall away again” (14-17). The couple feels the intimacy in the moment, but as soon as it is over, they go back to feeling nothing.
They try to hold on to feeling in the moment, but it is soon stripped away. The couple fears that the love will never be achieved, and they cling to the thought of this love they desire so much. However, because this love is not present, the couple cannot hold on to this artificial feeling that refuses to remain. While Hass conveys his idea in “Misery and Splendor” through the suggested tone, Olds also advocates her thoughts through the tone created in “Sex Without Love. ” By beginning the poem with a question, Olds sets the tone in a somewhat negative way.
She asks, “how do they do it, the ones who make love/ without love” (1-2). By posing this question, Olds seems baffled by the fact that people can become intimate with another person without loving that person first. Her misunderstanding and amazement of the concept also makes this idea making love without actually having love seem very skeptical and difficult to grasp. “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” (8-11).
This second question that Olds presents in her poem, reinforces not only her misunderstanding of these people, but also the tone she has created. This question that Olds has posed reinforces the idea that these people do not truly love the person they are becoming intimate with. The fact that Olds is questioning this concept creates a negative connotation of this action. This negative tone that Olds uses in this poem is also seen through her metaphor of these people as runners- “They know they are alone” (18); “[they are a] single body alone in the universe/ against its own best time” (23-24).
Olds implies that these “runners” are alone. This metaphor creates not only a negative tone, but also implies that these people are ultimately lonely. As Olds indicates that these people are lonely, the negative tone that she fuses through her poem becomes stronger. Love is not intended to be lonely. With these questions inserted in the poem and the implication of the person being “alone in the universe” (23), the tone of “Sex Without Love” is negative and disappointing, similar to the tone in “Misery and Splendor. ” Both “Misery and Splendor” and “Sex Without Love” have very similar underlying meanings.
Both Hass and Olds take an “old-fashioned” stance on the concept of being intimate with another person without feeling love for him or her first. Through the use of imagery and tone, these poets convey their thoughts that having sex before love will lead to disappointing, consequential repercussions. Although that is not the typical viewpoint today, these poets do pose an interesting stance on this topic. Instead of receiving media messages that having “sex friends” or “friends with benefits” is a normal occurrence, Hass and Olds both give reasons as to why this could be misleading.
They both explain that love cannot be found through the act of sex alone. Love comes from an emotional place before a physical place. Both Robert Hass and Sharon Olds share this idea that the physical factors of sex alone will not lead to the emotional benefits of love. Works Cited Hass, Robert. “Misery and Splendor. ” Class Document for English 230-008, Fall 2012. Olds, Sharon. “Sex Without Love” The Seagull Reader: Poems. Ed. Joseph Kelly. New York: W. W. Norton, 2008. 231-232. Print

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