Old Age and Elizabeth Jennings Ponders

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One Flesh - Elizabeth Jennings [1926-2001]
Relevant Background
* Elizabeth Jennings was a well-educated English woman who worked in publishing and as a librarian. * She devoted much of her poetry to spiritual and emotional topics of a personal nature. * She explored suffering, relationships, loneliness and religious faith. * In this poem, Elizabeth explores the nature of a marriage relationship in old age. It is very personal as she is dealing with her parents. * The title of the poem comes from the description in the bible of two people becoming one flesh in marriage. The word ‘one’ stands for their physical unity and the poet’s link to her parents as she observes and thinks about them. * Elizabeth Jennings ponders how her mother and father’s traditional marriage has ended in silence and physical separation: ‘silence between them’.

Summary
In three stanzas, Elizabeth Jennings wonders about the relationship and separateness of her aged parents, now that the passion between them has ended. Though no longer one flesh, they are still bonded together.

In the first stanza, Elizabeth Jennings explores the physical separation of her parents in two single beds. Her father intends to read, but doesn’t concentrate. He keeps the light on, as if busy. Her mother dreams of childhood and ponders on men in general. Their daughter, the poet, imagines that they are in suspense: awaiting some event or excitement to stir their lives into action. Both are just staring emptily: he at the book, she at the shadows. They seem physically, mentally and emotionally worlds apart.

In the second stanza, the poet remarks on how their old bodies are like the waste or leftovers [‘flotsam’] from their years of passion. Now that their passion is dead, the have grown physically apart, without visible affection or physical contact. Any slight touching they do is a reminder of how unemotional they are. Perhaps this thought is accompanied by private pain over what they...
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