Tuesday Poem: ‘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.

I’m quite a fan of Sharon Olds, one of America’s leading poets. I discovered her through this poem which is part of the reading materials for 139.123 Creative Writing, which I teach at Massey University. In 2013 Olds won the Pulitzer Prize for her collection, Stag’s Leap – a remarkable exploration of loss and intimacy that documents the end of her marriage. As the Poetry Foundation states: “Olds is known for writing intensely personal, emotionally scathing poetry” and Stag’s Leap certainly fits that description.

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7 thoughts on “Tuesday Poem: ‘Sex Without Love’ by Sharon Olds

  1. This is an extremely beautiful poem in the truest sense of the word, “beautiful”. It is so intimate and also so elegant.

    I can’t vouch for this statement being wholly true, but, even men in their secret hearts, know that sex with love far transcends sex without love.

  2. Goodness, every line in this is so intimate, so powerful. I hear her cry, her plea for love, and it makes me want to join in. This is a poem that makes me think: I wish I could write a poem like that. Amazing.

    This, at the heart of it:

    “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”

  3. This is a great and beautiful poem.

    Have you read the whole book? It’s a strange, strange beast. I really struggled to understand the perspective of grief (and lack of anger). It’s felt a bit like reading how an alien might go through a divorce. So, so interesting.

  4. I have read most of it, but only once. I thought it was quite obsessive, from memory. It’s hard to sustain an entire collection about one, very personal subject. I was impressed! I got anger though. She seemed pretty angry to me.

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