‘Story of a Hotel Room’ by Rosemary Tonks is a two stanza poem that is separated into sets of ten lines. The lines are fairly simple in their syntax but make great use of sensory details. These come together to form images of love, sex, happiness, and ruin, that make the poem very engaging.
The lines do not have a specific pattern of rhythm or rhyme, but there are a few moments of rhyme that occur within the text. For example, lines three and four, with the words “bedroom” and “gloom,” rhyme. Then, the ending pops up again with another use of “gloom” in the seventh line. There are also moments of half, or slant, rhyme that help to give the text a certain rhythm. For instance, “shutters” and “another” come close to rhyming with the similarity in consonant sounds, but don’t quite make it all the way. The same can be said for lines six and seven of the second stanza with “intentions” and “protections.”
The poem begins with the speaker exclaiming over events of the past. It very quickly becomes clear that she is reminiscing on an experience she had with the intended listener of this piece in which they had sex in a hotel. They were not in a committed relationship, as becomes clear towards the end of the poem, but she refers to their encounter as “love making.” It had all the qualities of a passionate romance, so much so that it was “ruinous.”
By the end of Story of a Hotel Room the speaker expresses some regret that she didn’t know of the consequences of this rendezvous before it happened. She wishes that someone had told her, that “without permanent intentions” that there is “no protection.”
You can read the full poem here.
One element of this piece which is relatively unusual, and interesting to consider, is the use of the ellipse. There are three different times in which Tonks makes use of an ellipse. The first is the most impactful as one is made to wonder about “the gloom” and what occurred there. This opens the text up to one’s own preconceived ideas of sex, secrets and the nature of temporary love.
The second moment an ellipse is used is in the second stanza after the phrase, “Happens to be illicit.” It indicates a pause in speech, filled with additional thoughts on the past. It also leads up to the most noteworthy phrase of the text, “To make love as well as that is ruinous.” It is clear through these broken up moments that the speaker
Tonks also utilizes a number of phrases in the text that can be labeled as oxymorons. An oxymoron is occurs with contradictory words are used together. The most prominent is in the seventh line of the first stanza with the words “screeching whispers.” Then, there is another instance in the first line with the compounded word “safe-insanity.” These show something of the emotional tumult that was, and is present within this memory.
Analysis of Story of a Hotel Room
Thinking we were safe-insanity!
Then in the gloom…
In the first lines of Story of a Hotel Room the speaker begins with an exclamation. She is recalling a temporary experience she had with the listener. Their current relationship is unclear, but the speaker does not shy away from expressing how passionately they felt about one another in the moments spoken about. The first thing though that she remembers about this experience is how insane they were to think they were safe. The two decided to go into “the little hotel bedroom” and “make love.”
This seems like a simple act, one that should not require such impassioned language but the speaker’s experience was different. She knows now that their implicit trust of one another and of the act, and the emotions associated, made them “Idiots.” The fourth line drifts off with the use of an ellipse. The ellipse is picked back up in the fourth line but in the meantime, a reader is left curious about what occurred “in the gloom” to inspire the speaker to write ‘Story of a Hotel Room.’
…And who does not know that pair of shutters
With all the awkward hook on them
Urgently! But on a temporary basis
Only as guests-just guests of one another’s senses.
In the next six lines of the first stanza, the speaker picks up the ellipse, trails it on a little further, and does not immediately let the reader know what’s going on. The gloom fills the room and in the next line the speaker recalls the “pair of shutters / With all the awkward hook on them.” These are features of the hotel room that she already knew well and which she thinks that others should as well. Lines five, six, and seven are part of a rhetorical question aimed at connecting a reader’s own experiences with hers.
She makes use of an oxymoron in line three with the phrase “screeching whispers.” It is phrases like this, and those that speak to the reader’s senses that make this poem so dense with emotion and experience. She goes on to continue addressing the gloom.
Their lovemaking is described as “acquiring one another.” This fairly emotionless language is interesting, as is the usage of “acquire.” The act is completed “Urgently!” They belong to one another, or as the word “acquire” implies, own one another. This state of being is only temporary though. It is only during their time “as guests-just guests” that this is the case.
The kind of mutual belonging they are engaging in is one of the senses. They are tuned to one another and involved in each other’s senses during this period. But, that knowledge will not last beyond the room. It is temporary.
But idiots to feel so safe you hold back nothing
To make love as well as that is ruinous.
In the first lines of the second stanza, the speaker makes use of the word “idiot” again. She states that it was idiotic of her and the listener to “feel so safe” when they were “hold[ing] back nothing.” It was a result of the room and they’re “acquiring” of one another that they came to connect so well. The second line of the stanza speaks on the “bed of cold, electric linen.” These are things were drew them together and influenced their lovemaking.
The time they spent together in the hotel room is powerful, especially in retrospect. During the moment they were together the speaker did not realize how “ruinous” their love was. Now though, it feels as if they got themselves into something that will not be easily forgotten. This is seen through the next line as the speaker expresses her wish for prior knowledge.
Londoner, Parisian, someone should have warned us
That without permanent intentions
The concurring deep love of the heart
Follows the naked work, profoundly moved by it.
In the last five lines of Story of a Hotel Room the speaker references Londoners and Parisians. These foreigners, who she associates with know about love, especially the ruinous kind, should’ve “warned us” that what they were engaged in was going to have consequences.
What she wishes that she knew at the time, was that “without permanent intentions” then there is no “protection” from the emotional repercussions of the sensory coming together. It is the temporary nature of their lovemaking that is trouble here. They were not protected from the consequences of their actions. These could be any set of emotional repercussions as well as physical ones.
In the last lines, the speaker describes a technically better outcome, one that is “clean, authentic, sumptuous.” It is not ruinous, rather, the heart is moved by a deep love and the “naked work” is successful. This speaks of a love that is more permanent and sex that likely occurs somewhere other than a hotel room.