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.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sharon Olds's poem Sex Without Love


  1. yasin says:

    hi, ı m looking for some shared themes between robert lowell and sharon olds. do yuo have any idea?

  2. jessica mayabb says:

    i really enjoyed this poem because i can relate to it completely. I think we all can at some point in our lives. i had to do an english assignment on sharon olds and wrote a poetic response to this poem, which could just have the same topic. Just wanted to let everyone out there know that i may be coming out with a book soon. It is called “Simple Crazy Misc.” It will probably have my poetic response in it.

  3. Richard Battersea says:

    Seattle.Monday.7November.2005 11pm or so, P.S.T.,

    If you read the poem as I did, as having the title: “Love Without Sex”, instead of how it should be, which is: “Sex Without Love”, then you misread the entire meaning of the poem, and the consequence is that your commentary, that is, MY commentary, is totally wrong… and mine certainly is, in the Commentary #2, dated 11.07.2005, at about 9:55pm.

    Due to my accidental reversal, I assumed the poet’s voice, Ms. Olds, to be an advocate of the words, rather than it’s opposite– the ironic voice showing how absurd and gross those persons are, who indulge in sex, with love, without caring about anyone except themselves, and who are, “like runners”…

    So this commentary, #3, also dated 11.07.2005, is not directed toward the poem–I shall need to do that soon, in order to correct my mistake– but rather is written in apology to Ms. Olds, for my having jumped to a conclusion, based upon my careless reversal of the title of the poem. So apologies all around… I must needs make amends… and consider this a start on that duty and obligation.

    The poem, Sex Without Love, IS indeed a poem, and even though it is not my emotional favorite, as I am fond of saying…. it still does not deserve my diatribe, as presented in Commentary # 2. So I rescind my remarks from Commentary #2, having “slapped myself up- side the head” and, with embarrassment, I say, as Admiral Haig once did: Everything’s fine here… I am in control”… It’s too bad too, ‘cuz I was really on a roll, there. Alas. Say “Goodnight”, Gracie. Hmmm, ok, George. “Goodnight, Gracie”…

    yours truly,
    Richard Battersea, artist

  4. Richard Battersea says:

    Seattle.Monday.7November.2005 10pm or so, P.S.T.,

    Addressed to Sharon Olds, who would have us believe that “Love Without Sex” is a real poem.

    Granted, it is a valid point of view to present in literature, including poetry, but the basic message, the content, is the usual cliche: life is bleak, we are all alone, if you think otherwise you are an ignoramus… It is pessimistic, self-indulgent, selfish and egocentric, pointless, lost in boring self-pity by the persona of the poet, who pleads the false claim of being more insightful, and wiser than the reader or anyone else, when in fact she is actually more interested simply, in “being seen”– like a prideful middle-aged woman in an ugly new hat and outfit, at church– than with creating a genuine work of poetry, and confronting the remarkable variety and full possibilities of life, both sad and tragic, ironic, humorous, funny, absurd, heroic, generous, kind, and an endlessly varied parade of connections between two or more people. I say “Fie” on this kind of empty poetic posing….
    “Fie” on your sorrowful incompetent cliched wailing. It is largely pretense, and self congratulation.. not really a poem at all.
    Poems are not created through the clever and/or talented manipulation of words and phrases–a real poem is a written form of expression, in language, concerning the complexity of life experience.
    Doesn’t the poet have a grandmother, or a pet cat or a neighbor nearby who is suffering some genuine injustice, or a city set on fire by people so poverty stricken that they can not feed and clothe their children?

    Ms. Olds is somewhat talented, but she is not honest in a fundamental sense…. poems do not consist simply in such arrangements of words, but MUST, regardless of style, emanate from the mind, heart and soul of the poet, with clarity and scrupulous truthfulness– regardless of the selected point of view. This poet, at least here, is guilty of egregious falsehood, reeking of the posturing Poseur.

    It is a misrepresentation of the very essence and purpose of poetry, and is instead, a paean to herself, and a pastiche of verbal turpitude.

    Get right with your own soul and mind, Ms. Olds ,
    ….listen to your heart and inner voices, and feel the Infinite, as well as the finite world– the 10,000 things– and join the human race….

    Otherwise try something else, like advertising.

    Yours truly,
    Richard Battersea, artist

  5. Joe says:

    I am in an English course at college, and I just recently found this poem in the book we are using. We are using the book, “Thinking And Writing About Literature” by Michael Meyer, and it is the second edition. The reason for my comment is this says it was written in 1985, in the book I have, it says 1984. Just thought I’d share.

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