One Flesh is a beautifully written poem by Elizabeth Jennings. In this poem, the speaker observes the reality of romance and marriages in the long run and how it turns into something unrecognizable. The speaker observes her parents with curiosity and intrigue, as they lie in bed beside each other but with a lack of intimacy. She also wonders about the thoughts in their minds as they seem so distant and disconnected from one another. This is by no means a romantic poem: as she observes this course of their marriage, she depicts how two people who were once so in love with one other resulted in their current reality.
The First Stanza
The first stanza focuses on the disconnection between the man and the woman regarding mental intimacy. The man is currently holding an unread book and he anticipates what adventures this book has to offer for him, as it acts as an escape away from reality. He anticipates every event in the book, and the speaker observes that this form of escape is what he prefers rather than lying beside his wife. This is also why he chooses to keep the light on- to focus on his book rather than his wife.
The woman, on the other hand, is consumed with her thoughts with her past and her childhood. The speaker observes that the woman- her mother- is comparing her distant memories of the past to her current reality, as she lies beside her husband. Although they are physically beside each other, there’s clearly a lack of emotional and mental connection. The speaker has an apathetic perspective regarding marriage and long-lasting relationships, which is what can be seen in the way the speaker describes her parents.
The Second Stanza
The first line of this stanza uses the word flotsam, which is the word the speaker uses to describe her parents’ marriage- a storm. The fact the she thinks of their relationship in this perspective is also proof of her view on romance and marriage. As the speaker continues to observe her parents, she compares their relationship to the aftermath of a storm, and no longer passionate. The speaker also confesses that her parents rarely ever touch anymore and when they do, it seems forced and stiff.
Her perspective on her parents’ relationship seems far from real to her. The last two lines of this stanza also proves that she views her parents’ marriage as chaste, as if this was something her parents have been preparing for their entire lives. Though the initial stage of relationships and marriage and full of passion and desire, the speaker believes that the relationship will eventually lose its fire and return to a life of abstinence.
The Third Stanza
In the final stanza of One Flesh, the center of attention changes from love to time. With the speaker’s conviction that her parents display a lack of connection and intimacy, she wonders if they know they’re getting old. Time is, and has always been, a fragile concept. The speaker wonders if her parents know that they’re losing time, yet they choose to spend the final moments of their lives with a lack of passion and life.
She believes that what she observes before her own eyes isn’t real love and she refuses to believe that this is all there is to love. The speaker also compares time to a feather, showing its fragility and delicacy. The speaker is aware that time is constantly moving, but she wonders if her parents know that as well.
One Flesh is not merely a poem depicting a loss of passion and desire in marriages that last long enough for it to happen; it also shows the speaker’s perspective on how she views love and marriage should be. The narrator seems to have the conviction that chastity and abstinence are the only end results of any marriage or relationship. Thus, this beautifully written poem by Elizabeth Jennings shows you the tragedy of a marriage that not only ended in a lack of intimacy, but brought a dark mindset onto its offspring.