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Last Reviewed on August 16, 2019, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 410

Toward the end of the poem, the speaker describes a hug as something which ought to be a "masterpiece of connection." In her mind, then, it seems that a hug can tell a person a lot about the other person's feelings. It is notable, for this reason, that when she hugs her significant other, her companion and lover, she says, "I finish but keep on holding you." She says that she finishes, but not that they finish; her companion does not really seem to be an equal partner in this hug.

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It is as though they receive the hug but do not return it in the same way. If fact, the speaker also describes her desire to hug her lover as being like a star that is so overflowing with light that it has to "shoot" some of it off; presumably, the hug is her attempt to "shoot off" some of her loving feelings toward her companion. Notice that it is not reciprocated in the simile.

Later, however, when the speaker hugs the stranger, the feeling of the hug is quite different. She says that

This is his and he's starting
to give it back so well I know he's getting it. This Hug. So truly,
so tenderly, we stop having arms and I don't know if my lover has walked away
Or what

There is something reciprocal about the feelings associated with this hug. This is not a star sloughing off some of its light and receiving nothing in return; the homeless man is giving something back to the speaker during this hug. This hug is true and tender and makes the speaker feel as if they no longer have arms and that they are sort of merging with one another in a really beautiful, emotional way. She's not even sure what is going on around them during this hug, if her companion is still there, if the woman is still reading the poem, and so on.

This is how hugs are supposed to be, and the contrast between her hug with her companion and her hug with this stranger is stark. Her companion's willingness to share her and her hugs with someone else was already quite revealing to her, and, in the end, she wonders where she will "go back to" when this cosmic, eternal hug is over. Her lover's lackluster hug and willingness to share her hugs with others seems to tell her that their relationship is over.

The Poem

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Last Updated on May 5, 2015, by eNotes Editorial. Word Count: 483

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 her lover agrees to it, not feeling possessive of her. The speaker’s ordinary notion about love has...

(The entire section contains 1349 words.)

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