‘One Flesh’
Elizabeth Jennings
LO) To explore how Jennings uses
structure and linguistic features to
describe the autumn years of a
• Elizabeth Jennings was a well-educated
English woman who worked in publishing and
as a librarian.
• She was born in 1926 and died in 2002
• She devoted much of her poetry to spiritual
and emotional topics of a personal nature.
• She explored suffering, relationships,
loneliness and religious faith.
What is it about?
• Read the poem once and then listen to the
poem. One Flesh = Elizabeth Jennings
• What do you think the poem is about?
One Flesh
• 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’
Shows the gulf between the couple
Not happy,
wishing for
the past
Contrast between light
and dark, Showing how
different the couple
Lying apart now, each in a separate bed,
He with a book, keeping the light on late,
She like a girl dreaming of childhood,
All men elsewhere - it is as if they wait
Some new event: the book he holds unread,
Her eyes fixed on the shadows overhead.
Heroic couplet (iambic pentameter +
couplet) helps to reinforce their binding marriage – structure
of this juxtaposes with lack of rhythm before, reinforcing
their separateness.
Neither of them are talking, he has the book
“unread” not really interested. She stares at “the
shadows overhead” . They are both not just
sleeping in separate beds but living apart. There
is nothing between them – no communication.
Shows a loss of the passion
of youth, it has faded from
their lives.
Flotsam – wreckage floating
in the sea. Shows that this is
all that is left after their
passion as a younger couple
Expresses powerful
emotion previously
Tossed up like flotsam /from a former passion,
How cool they lie. They hardly ever touch,
Or if they do, it is like a confession
Of having little feeling - or too much.
Chastity faces them, a destination
For which their whole lives were a preparation.
Religious words, show that they
keep to their vows even if unhappy
Chastity = not having sex (sexual abstinence)
Their life
before was
but that is
now lost
Repetition, suggests it
is not how things
should be.
is weak,
not as
strong as
in a
Sibilance - repetition of the s
sound - emphasises the silence in
a house where the elderly
inhabitants don’t converse
Silence between them like a thread to hold
And not wind in. And time itself's a feather
Touching them gently. Do they know they're old,
These two who are my father and my mother
Whose fire from which I came, has now grown
Conveys unusual in their
distance & proximity;
implies awkward
relationship emphasised
by comma
Contrast The image of fire is
contrasted to coldness. Thus, the
poem compares love in youth to
separateness in old age.
Sibilance = ‘s’ or ‘sh’ sounds close together
The gradual
effects of
time are
to the touch
of a
• The rhyme scheme in stanza 1 and 2 is ababaa
• Gives the poem a steady, repetitive feel. There
are 10 beats per line which make it sound
monotonous like the couples marriage.
• In stanza 3 it changes to ababab .
• This is where the poet reveals the identity of
herself and the old couple.
• The poem sounds depressing
• The couple are unhappy
• The poet sounds regretful that this is what has
become of her parents.
• Would you agree with this? Why/why not?
The simile is effective because their relationship has
become a wreck. They haven’t got much to hold on
This simile is effective because it’s like they have
done something wrong. Guilt over the flaws in their
marriage (their lack of physical connection)
This simile is effective because the ‘thread’ suggests
that their marriage has become weak. ‘To hold’
suggests desperation to make it work.
This metaphor is effective because ‘feather’ suggests
it’s soft, fragile and delicate like their marriage.
This metaphor is effective because it shows that they
once had a really strong passionate marriage in which
their child was born.
Over to you
• How do you think the parents would respond?
• Do you think they would agree with how their
daughter sees their lives.
• Write down the parents response, using
evidence from the text.
• What is your personal response to the poem?
• Remember you will need to write about this
for every poem studied!
• Which poem that we have studied so far
would you compare One Flesh to?
• Choose one other poem that we have studied
and write down the similarities and
differences between them.