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'One Flesh'.

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Introduction

Elizabeth Jennings 'One Flesh' On the surface, 'One Flesh' is the poet's description of the relationship that exists between her elderly married parents, a relationship which, though full of 'passion' in the past, is now sterile and 'cold.' The main theme of the poem, however, is the mystery and indissolubility of the married state by which two, however 'separate' and 'apart' they may seem, are actually 'strangely close together' in that they have become 'One Flesh.' In marriage, 'oneness' grows through sexual passion and the conception of children; it then moves on to another kind of connectedness that exists even in silence and physical separation. The poem thus addresses the different implications of 'one flesh,' the physical as well as the mysterious unknown aspects of a relationship. The title of the poem, 'One Flesh,' is drawn both from the Christian marriage service and from the Bible. In Genesis, it is written that 'a man leaves his father and his mother and cleaves to his wife, and they become one flesh.' Jesus also alludes to this in the New Testament, when he says of marriage 'The two shall become one - no longer two, but one.' Thus the title directly alludes to the mystery of marriage, which cannot be explained in logical or scientific terms: that two distinct beings can actually be so joined by a spiritual act that they become 'one.' ...read more.

Middle

The poet explains this paradox by saying that her parents are linked even in their 'silence' by an invisible 'thread' that connects them; even though they do not 'wind in' the thread and become physically connected they still 'hold' the thread of connectedness. And this thread is held as they slowly age, gently touched by time's 'feather.' Finally, at the end of the stanza, the poet asks herself a question: do her parents actually know that they're 'old' now that the 'fire' of their passion has 'grown cold'? The point is here that we age imperceptibly, and are often not aware of the changes that are overtaking us; however, the poet seems also to want to suggest that because of the mysterious connectedness that exists between two married people the loss of physical passion may not be the whole story - though sex may have grown 'cold' they are bound together in other, more mysterious ways. Thus the argument of the poem moves from the apparently bleak loss of closeness between the parents because of the death of passion to the realization that they are connected more subtly. The patterns of figurative language in the poem also reflect this juxtaposition between the cold, hard fact of the literal death of passion and the mysterious, paradoxical state of still being 'one flesh' despite this. ...read more.

Conclusion

In the last stanza, however, the rhyme scheme changes so that no two lines rhyme together. Could this allude to the uncertainly that ends the last stanza, as the poet asks herself a question she cannot answer, the question as to the actual nature of the relationship between her parents? This lack of closure in the rhyme scheme in the last stanza thus works to suggest the 'mysterious' nature of marriage, which does pose questions we cannot logically answer, especially the question of how 'two' can become 'one' so indissolubly. The fact of two becoming one is also suggested in the poet's use of parallelisms. In stanza one, even though the two people are lying 'apart' their activities are described in parallel clauses: 'He with a book, keeping the light on late,/She like a girl dreaming of childhood;' 'the book he holds unread,/Her eyes fixed on the shadows overhead.' Parallelism also occurs in stanza two in the line 'Of having little feeling - or too much,' and in the first line of stanza three, 'Strangely apart, yet strangely close together.' These parallelisms subtly stresses the fact that in marriage 'two shall become one - no longer two but one.' So, in conclusion, this poem addresses the mystery of the sacrament of marriage and explores the paradox of how two distinct beings can be joined into 'One Flesh.' ...read more.

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