In ‘Two Songs,’ Adrienne Rich talks about one speaker’s sensual experience with a man she has no emotional feelings for. Yet, they made love together quite passionately, the memory of which is hard to forget. The first song deals with the impression of the act and the second song deals with the act itself, specifically the climax. In both songs, the poet chooses straightforward diction though she deals with a topic not talked about frankly.
Explore Two Songs
‘Two Songs’ by Adrienne Rich describes a speaker’s physical intimacy with a man out of sheer lust, not for emotional love.
In the first song, the speaker shares the incident directly. It occurred to her on a morning at about ten o’clock. It was drizzling outside and within she felt a craving for the young man. She made love with him, whom she did not love. Rich uses the plowing metaphor in order to describe the act of lovemaking.
In the second song, the speaker focuses on the “old last act” or the culmination of the act. She can vividly remember how they fainted together in the bed. She felt as if they shot for the moon during lovemaking. In the end, she talks about how they thanked each other as if they both were invested in a mechanical act, devoid of the emotion of love.
You can read the full poems here.
Sex, as they harshly call it,
I fell into this morning
pierced me to the roots
bathing every vein, etc.
Adrienne Rich’s ‘Two Songs’ are about physical love. The first song begins with a polite and sophisticated representation of “Sex,” a socially unaccepted counterpart of what we call “Love.” For the speaker, it is a rather cherishing experience for those who have not experienced the latter. Those who have it “harshly” define “Sex.” The speaker had the opportunity to have one such experience at ten in the morning. It was a rainy day, in the poet’s words, “a drizzling hour/ of traffic and wet newspapers.”
While it rained outside, it came to her quite spontaneously: the need to have the man intimately once again. Yesterday, he took to a hot field as if he was about to plow. It is interesting to note Rich’s use of language here. She uses “plowing” as a metaphor for lovemaking. The way the plow pierces the ground is compared to the intimate act of having sex. The speaker quite distinctly remembers how he pierced her to the roots, bathing her in each vein.
All day he appears to me
all our high-toned questions
breed in a lively animal.
Throughout the day, the memories of lovemaking make her remember this young man, who was “touchingly desirable.” Comparing this man to a “prize,” the speaker says he wreaks havoc in her mind, disturbing her mental peace. She prefers calling the feeling she har for the man “love.” Ironically, she had not experienced love in so many years of life. Thus, it would be appropriate to call the feelings she has for him, “lust.”
Rich compares “lust” to a “jewel” that sits at the top of all physical emotions. It is a kind of “sweet flower” short-lived and fragrant. In the next lines, the speaker shifts from the topic and returns to the idea at the beginning. She talks about how society thinks of “lust.” It makes her happy to know all the high-toned questions regarding physicality bred in a “lively animal,” called the human being.
That “old last act”!
And yet sometimes
my opposite number lands
I make it—
The second song quickly jumps to the act of lovemaking. Rich’s persona talks about the “old last act.” Just after one has made love with their partner, sometimes it seems “post coitum triste.” This Latin phrase refers to the feeling of sadness after having sex. Sometimes, the speaker has such a feeling after lovemaking. At those moments, she feels like someone else is going off to space, shooting to the moon. It could be a “moon-race” where both partners participated, metaphorically.
After a few seconds, the speaker realizes her partner has already landed there. It means the partner has reached his culmination point, but she has not. Just after him, she makes it.
we lie fainting together
at a crater-edge
we murmur the first moonwords:
Spasibo. Thanks. O.K.
In these lines, the speaker describes how they lie together as if they are about to faint. It seems like they are at a “crater-edge” of the moon. Their bodies feel as heavy as mercury in their imaginary “moonsuits.” Suddenly, her partner breaks the silence and speaks in a different language. The speaker has learned that language through cultural exchanges. The partner replies in Russian, “Spasibo.” In reply, she bids him thank you.
These words referred to as the “moonwords” reflect a sense of detachment. After making love, their tone soundS mechanical. It seems as if they are together for the sake of their bodily needs only. There is nothing other than “lust” in this relationship.
Structure and Form
Both of these poems are written in free-verse, without any regular rhyme scheme or meter. The poems are told from the perspective of a first-person woman speaker. Rich uses a combination of colloquial as well as formal diction to describe the feelings of the speaker. In the first part, there are a total of twenty-one lines and the second part consists of nineteen lines. Both songs have no stanza breaks. Rich marks the transition between one idea to the other one by using end-stopped lines.
Rich makes use of the following literary devices in ‘Two Songs’:
- Enjambment: It occurs throughout the text. Rich uses this device to connect the lines internally. Readers can find the use of this device in these lines, “I fell into this morning/ ar ten o’clock, a drizzling hour/ of traffic and wet newspapers.”
- Insinuation: The speaker insinuates the act of lovemaking in the following lines, “ready for plowing… pierced me to the roots/ bathing every vein, etc.”
- Irony: Rich uses understatement in the following lines in order to contrast emotional love with lust: “I’d call it love if love/ didn’t take so many years”.
- Metaphor: There is an implicit comparison between “lust” and “jewel” and subsequently between “lust” and “sweet flower.” Through these comparisons, the speaker projects physicality or lust in a positive light.
- Simile: It occurs in “heavy as mercury in our moonsuits”. In this line, the speaker compares her body’s heaviness after having to that of mercury.
Adrienne Rich’s ‘Two Songs’ are about a speaker’s sexual encounter with a young man. She is not in love with the person, but somehow she feels attached to him. It is “lust” she has for the man, not “love.” The songs recount how she made love with the person.
Each poem is written in free-verse form without a specific rhyme scheme or meter. The lines are grouped together in a single stanza. Besides, the poems are written from the perspective of a first-person speaker.
The main theme of these poems is lust. They also tap the themes of lovemaking, love vs. lust, and pleasure.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly tap on the themes present in ‘Two Songs.’ You can also consider reading more Adrienne Rich poems.
- ‘Their Sex Life’ by A. R. Ammons — This poem is about modern relationships and sexuality.
- ‘Sex Without Love’ by Sharon Olds — This piece explores the implications of relationships based on sex rather than love.
- ‘Easter’ by Frank O’Hara — This surrealistic piece describes the contrasting elements of life and death and how these forces spawn different images.
- ‘Mock Orange’ by Louise Glück — This poem describes how a speaker looks at the flowers and how it has a connection to the intimacy between a man and woman.