Donald Hall’s book “Safe Sex” focuses on relationships. Although the speaker appears to be hailing a particular type of distant disconnection (1) as the best type of relationship, it seems that the speaker is suggesting that this type of relationship is weak and lacks passion.
Donald Hall was a Hamden, Connecticut native to parents who instilled his fascination with prose and poetry. Hall was 16 when his first poem was published. This demonstrated that he had a strong grasp of poetry from an early age. Hall was a student at Stanford, Harvard and Oxford. He worked alongside Robert Bly, Frank O’Hara and Adrienne Rich during this time and was surrounded by the rich literary culture of these prestigious universities. He married Jane Kenyon in 1994, when he succumbed to leukemia. Hall persevered and was awarded numerous honors for his unique style of creating surrealism using simple language and structure in the works. His most notable achievement was being named the U.S. 14th poet laureate in 2006. (Poetry Foundation). Hall plays the role of a scorned love or a man who has experienced heartbreak. This poem is meant for all, especially those seeking a relationship that is free from drama and stress. Although the poem doesn’t make any clear references to where or when it was written, its themes of love and death are universally applicable and can be applied to anyone. Hall’s presentation of the concept of passion in relationships is presented with a mystic warning tone. It is exciting for the partners involved but it can also lead to more difficult times.
“Safe Sex” lists all the things that could make it difficult for a couple to develop affection and attachment. Safe Sex will not lead to fights, arguments, or sudden decisions.
Hall’s choice in words for this poem allows him to communicate the message better. Because of seemingly disparate topics, the title, “Safe Sex”, is different from the body. It is possible to find the same ideas of protecting oneself from sexual diseases and protecting relationships. Hall’s description of heartbreak and the passion that ensues is an excellent example.
Hall’s illustration, “families that are entitled and steel” (5), serves as a metaphor of arrogance and unwavering incompetence. Personification in “trembling Days” (8) is also a metaphor. It evokes days of caution, sadness, or even apprehension toward someone else. After this, the gentle spitting pronunciation of “vomit at night” (8) echoes the description. This could be taken to mean that the poem is referring to pregnancy.
The imagery in this poem is vivid and compelling. The repetition in “insensible and under skin” (3) emphasizes one’s indifference. Line 7’s “hurled word on permanent humiliation”, however, highlights the deprecating, painful things said during an argument. “Repeated/apparitional of a face-down body at the pond’s shore” (8-9) is perhaps the most striking image in this poem. This image may be referring back to Ophelia who drowned because her madness. The word “apparition” is a reference to a ghostlike vision that haunts its victim until it ends their life.
Hall’s poem uses imagery and diction, but also hyperbole. This poem’s main idea is that we should avoid any form of devotion and connectivity to save ourselves from conflict and thoughts about death. However, this can be a exaggeration of heartbreak. Hyperbole and the suggestion that a love relationship will lead to ghostly sights is a way of exaggerating the devastating effects of sorrow. The title of the poem is also ironic in relation to its content. We can keep ourselves “safe” from the heartache and woes that come with it, but we won’t know how it feels to be fully committed to another person.
The poem uses free verse and iambic-octameter. There are 15 or more syllables per lines. The lines are laid out in 4 sets, and one final line. These all have line breaks. Hall has created a poetic structure to clearly show every change occurring within the persona’s thoughts and keeps the poem’s flow intact. As the poem progresses the main theme shifts slowly until it reveals one’s innermost thoughts.
Hall lists the steps one can take to prevent heartache in the future and the consequences. This makes Hall’s case for not loving your partner passionately in a tightly-connected relationship. He also shares a more positive message. These ups and downs, despite the fact that we are most happy when we have the least misery, are what make us human and keep our relationships alive. Without love, relationships are not connected or meaningful. To hide our true emotions, we create a false sense that we are safe. We can’t live, love, or be hurt if our devotion is limited by fear.
Donald Hall’s poem, Safe Sex, emphasizes the themes that love, safety, heartache, and happiness. Although it appears we can shield ourselves from all harm, this does little to allow us the full experience of each relationship’s joys and hurts. This will make it more difficult to discover the truth about love’s labors and keep us from finding love.