Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds and “First Love by John Clare” are two poems that present extreme situations in men-woman relationships: pure love is emphasized in the former, and sex is emphasized in the latter. In “Sex Without Love” by Sharon Olds the speaker does not present images of love but images of casual sex or free sex, putting aside the presence of love in some sexual relations.
This poem starts when the speaker asks: “How do they do it, the ones who make love without love? (ll. 1-2). By doing this she is criticizing the people that can have sex without loving each other and asks herself how can they do it. In this poem the author leaves all the feelings and emotions behind, and talks about how superficial and cold are the people who practice that kind of casual sex. In Olds’ poem the writer uses similes belonging to seasons and temperature to refer to people who can have sex without love. In fact, the speaker refers those kinds of lovers as “ice skaters over ice” (ll. 3-4). This last image involves a notion of coldness.
In fact, the line mentions ice, ice is cold, and being cold sometimes relates to a person who has no feeling. It is also involves the season of winter. Olds employs those kinds of similes to show us how impersonal and lacking of human warm those kinds of relationship. In Olds’ poem the writer uses similes belonging to entertainment or amusing activities, such as dancing and ice-skating to compare the significance of love for people who practice casual sex. The writer points out: “…Beautiful as dancers,/ gliding over each other like ice-skaters” (l. 2-3) .
The author considers the practice of sex as an activity that is more important and superior than those kinds of entertainments. The image of ice-skaters suggests the idea of sex as a sport. Indeed, ice-skating is performed before an audience to win an award or competence (meaning a kind of social admiration). Sharon Olds uses this simile to relate how people act upon one another to express their lustful pleasures. On the contrary, when two people are in love, there is no that kind of show or competence. Being the practice of sex a sport for those people, free-sex lovers are compared “with great runners” (l. 8).
Meaning those who do not just participate in the race, but who will make the last effort to prove that they are the best. They are selfish because they do care only in their own performance and their own success. Loneliness is the aftermath of casual sex in this poem. There are no long-term emotional engagements in these human contacts. Indeed, the speaker says “they know they are alone” (l. 18). Meaning that after the sexual act they feel alone. These kind of individual is just a ” single body alone in the universe” (l. 23).
We have seen that in Olds’ poem love is absent in the personal relationships along the lines. On the other hand, in Clare’s poem love is present everywhere. The speaker expresses how he feels and what happens to him when he falls in love for the first time; the speaker talks about his most personal feelings and starts the poem by saying: “I never was struck before that hour,/ With love so sudden and so sweet” (l. 1-2), meaning that he was never in love before that moment, and then describes how it is that he feels through the rest of the poem.
While in Olds’ poem physical performance is emphasized over feelings and emotions, in “First Love” the feeling in the speaker is overwhelming and paralyzing. This poet explains how he is losing control over his heart due to his love for a woman. He says: “And [she] stole my heart away complete. ”(l. 4). Not only his heart now belongs to the girl he loves but also the poet also loses control over his body: “My legs refused to walk away,” (l. 6). The emotional aspect prevails over the physical one. Clare also employs images of seasons to describe his feelings.
In “First Love” the speaker uses the following simile: “Her face it bloomed like a sweet flower” (l. 4). This literary figure is saying that her face opened up and revealed something beautiful just as a flower does. It brings also the image of spring because flowers blooming are associated with it. On the other hand, in Olds’s poem the presence of ice brings the image of winter. When focusing on the structure of this both poems, “ First Love“ has three octaves (three stanzas with eight verses) with an alternate rhyming scheme.
While “Sex Without Love” is a poem with no rhyme and twenty four verses, though this poem still has a rhythm created by the use of words and repetitions of words: “How do they come to the come to the come to the God come to the” (l. 8). Here we can see a structural contrast between two poems; indeed, the former is much more systematized than the latter, and this shows that the John Clare was much more focused on the structure of the poem when he wrote it than the author of the other poem. In addition, the rhythm that he gave it makes the poem very melodic and helps us hear it more beautifully.
This makes Clare’s poem a much more beautiful and organized poem than that of Olds. Loneliness is also a possible consequence in relationships where love is involved. In the last part of “First Love” the poet finds himself alone because his love is not met. The poet writes: “Is love’s bed always snow” (l. 18). Loneliness is a common point in these poems. While in Olds’ poem we can find out a sense of indignation along its lines, in that of Clare’s the sense that underlay is sadness due to poet’s final loneliness. It may be due to his own experiences of love, since he was unable to be with the woman that he loved.
The poet explains in some lines how everything around him is in darkness all the time: “The trees and bushes round the place/ Seemed midnight at noonday /I could not see a single thing. ”(ll. 11-13); these images tell us that everything is becoming dark and gloomy even in the daytime, because the woman he loves is not there. It is a very depressing image, and makes it seem as if she is his life. He also repeats not being able to see anything, his senses, reason and his own identity has been lost due to this love.
In “First love”, the speaker is in love, an emotion beyond the physical – a very overwhelming feeling. While in “Sex Without Love”, the speaker expresses a rejection of personal relationships that are based in purely physical and superficial aspects. “First Love” has a much more innocent and emotional theme and has powerful images. While “Sex Without Love” the topic refers to superficial and cold personal relationships. Those pieces of poetry represent opposite scenarios in some human relationships: pure and innocent love (without sex) in Clare’s poem, and sex without love in Olds’.