‘Their Sex Life’ is a very short poem written by the American poet A. R. Ammons. This poem presents the image of a couple having sex. However, there isn’t enough detail that can illustrate the image further. It’s up to the readers how they interpret the words and what they can comprehend from the riddle-like lines of the poem. Being a modern poem, there are several ideas that Ammons covers in his poem. This poem encompasses several elements such as sex life, failure, relationship, lack of compassion and love, and last but least emotional imbalance.
In this short poem, A. R. Ammons summarizes the modern-day relationship and sex life of couples. By depicting an image of a couple having sex, the poet shows the emotional side of the couple. In that image, one can visualize a man/ woman on top of another and having sex. But, the addition of the word “failure” shows the emotional world of both the man and the woman. There is some sort of absence that is troubling both of them. Hence, it seems that they are in a mechanical process of love-making and somehow trying to exhale their frustration.
You can read the full poem here.
‘Their Sex Life’ consists of only two lines. First of all, the title gives a key to the readers for unlocking the emotional world of the couple portrayed in the poem. Thereafter, the body of the poem shows a couple making love. It’s rather a mechanical activity. Whatsoever, there is an internal rhyming in the poem. Here, “failure” and “another” create this rhyming. But, the two lines of the poem don’t rhyme at all. It’s in free verse. Moreover, the first line contains two iambic feet. Whereas the second line begins with a trochee and ends with an iamb. The last syllable of this line is unstressed. So, the second line has a hypermetrical ending.
The text only contains a few literary devices. However, the most important literary devices of the poem are metaphor and alliteration. In the first line, “One failure” contains a metaphor. Here, the poet compares the person lying on top of another to a failure. The word “failure” metaphorically refers to the failure of a person at different levels. Here, the poet depicts one’s failure in personal life and professional life as well. Moreover, there is a repetition of the vowel sound “o” in the poem. It’s an example of assonance. While, the repetition of the consonant sound “r” in the words “failure” and “another”, make them an example of consonance.
‘Their Sex Life’ has an interesting reference to the institution of marriage in modern times and the sexual life of couples. At first, the title of the poem helps one to grasp the essence of the poem. It’s about one’s “sex life”. So, it’s not about other things that one does in life. Particularly, the word “sex” in the poem has an ironic meaning. Sex or physicality is a concept that is both despised and frowned upon in civilized society. In such a society, one does it but he is never vocal about it. But, in this poem, the poet feels no restriction while discussing a person’s sex life.
However, the theme introduced in the poem is about the problems in a relationship. Those problems keep two persons apart and they get detached emotionally. What remains, is the mechanical process of love-making. They do it either for flushing out their frustration or for inflicting pain to recover from a deeper level of pain lying unseen in the mind. For this reason, the poet shows “one failure” who is on his or her partner and having sex. That “one” is not a normal person. He is a failure in life and somehow suffering from the emotional turmoil of the mind.
In the second line of the poem, ‘Their Sex Life’, A. R. Ammons depicts the second “failure”. That person can be a man or a woman. But, according to the poet, he or she is also a failure like a person in the first line. It seems as if the concept of attraction between two humans having similar problems or mindset, is getting true in this poem. However, the person lying and having sex depicts a passive sufferer of the event. The person might be enjoying sex but the word “another” connected to “failure” points at something else. That person is also going through the same emotional problems that one faces while confronting failure in life. So, they are in a process of getting out of their depression. Having sex gives them a temporary way out.
In this poem, A. R. Ammons refers to modern relationships and the problems in a relationship. However, in modernity, everything seems to be lacking the essential elements that keep a soul alive. Likewise, in this poem, two persons are having sex but they don’t feel any kind of emotional connection. One is on top of another and just being in that process. The poet doesn’t provide any further poetic materials to help readers to imagine more. Thus, the poet feels there is nothing more left in romantic relationships. In modern times, most couples go through this lack of compassion. It depends mostly on the society they live in and their way of thinking.
About A.R. Ammons
Archie Randolph Ammons was an American poet. He won the annual National Book Award for Poetry two times in 1973 and 1993. Ammons wrote mostly about the theme of the human relationship to nature. His poetry has often a religious as well as a philosophical bent. However, during the five decades of his poetic career, he received several awards and citations. He was elected a Fellow of the American Academy of Arts and Sciences in 1978. Ammons died on February 25, 2001. Some of his recently published books of poetry are “The Complete Poems of A. R. Ammons”, “The Mule Poems”, and “The North Carolina Poems”.
Here is a list of a few poems that similarly present the themes that are present in A. R. Ammons poem, ‘Their Sex Life’.
- Sex Without Love by Sharon Olds – Here, in this poem, Sharon Olds describes relationships in which a couple engages in sex without a deeper emotional bonding.
- Dry-Point by Philip Larkin – It’s one of the best Philip Larkin poems. In this poem, the poet describes sex as something that is both an irritant and a constant.
- Mock Orange by Louise Glück – This poem deals with the theme of heterosexual love giving negative and transgressive images of it.
- Story of a Hotel Room by Rosemary Tonks – In this poem, Rosemary Tonks tells of a ruinous sexual encounter between the poetic persona and her lover in a hotel room.
You can read about 10 of the Most Important Poets of the 21st Century here.