The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

Tess Gallagher’s “The Hug” moves through four stanzas relating an experience of the female speaker giving a hug to a stranger and coming to an illumination about the human ability to connect. Central to the poem is the speaker’s relationship to the lover taking a walk with her when this experience occurs. Their closeness sparks the stranger’s request to receive one of the hugs the woman gives to her lover. Curiously, the speaker appears lost at the end of the poem, the hug over, her lover not much of a presence anymore.

Serendipity characterizes the poem’s movement. Events seem to just happen, and one thing follows another. The oddity of a woman “reading a poem on the street” is not remarked upon. The lovers, “arms around each other,” stop and listen; the street life is free-flowing and “open.” The only ominous note is the contrast to the houses surrounding them: “no one is entering or leaving.”

This stasis is offset by the woman’s sudden desire to hug her lover: “a hug comes over me.” She feels emotion; she acts, being spontaneous and loving. So attractive are her actions that a male bystander approaches and asks, “Can I have one of those?” The speaker is baffled by this man and wonders where he came from. His sudden appearance is as serendipitous as the sidewalk poetry reading or the speaker’s desire to give her lover a hug. She says she is “surprised” at this request but even more taken aback that...

(The entire section is 483 words.)