Last Updated September 5, 2023.
The speaker of the poem is the main character—or the poem’s protagonist, so to speak. The speaker seems to be a woman who deeply believes in the power and significance of a good hug. She and her companion, a lover, stop in the street to listen to a woman reading a poem aloud. While listening, the speaker is suddenly overwhelmed with the urge to hug her companion, and she does so. For her, it feels like she is a “star shooting light off to make itself comfortable,” as though her loving feelings are so big that they spill out of her in the hug she offers to her companion. However, when her companion freely assents to sharing the speaker and her hugs with another, she realizes that her companion does not feel the “for me only” feeling that she believes love ought to inspire. This puts their relationship into a new perspective for her.
The Speaker's Companion
The speaker’s unnamed companion is a sort of antagonist in the poem. The speaker describes this companion as her “lover,” and she is “surprised” when they do not claim her as theirs when a stranger asks for one of her hugs. This companion did not seem to really return the hug, as the narrator says that she “finish[es] but keep[s] holding [them].” This companion, then, is held, is hugged, but does not truly seem to be an active participant in the embrace. They do not hold her, hug her, in the same way.
The stranger, perhaps a homeless man, actually returns the hug given to him by the speaker—in contrast to the speaker’s companion. She realizes that he “give[s] it back so well” that she knows he is “getting it.” This hug is something special, something much different, it seems, from the hug she shared with her significant other. This hug, unlike that one, is more like a “masterpiece of connection,” and the speaker knows that this hug will stay with her for some time afterward, as symbolized by the image of a “planet” that will be “imprint[ed]” on her cheek by one of the buttons on the man’s coat.