Sharon Olds


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Showing 1 - 10 of 17 annotations associated with Olds, Sharon

Stag's Leap

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jun-21-2013
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

With the publication of Stag's Leap, it is very publicly (on the flyleaf) revealed that Olds is writing about the sudden, unexpected death of her 32 year marriage when her husband left to be with another woman. She waited 15 years after the event to publish this book, not wishing her children to have to face the immediate publicity.  Stag's Leap refers both to the favorite wine that she and her husband drank together, and to his leap out of the marriage.

The collection is divided into sections: the year of her husband's revelation and departure, beginning with "While He Told Me"; several years following, divided into seasons; and "Years Later." The poems detail her shock, grief, and eventual acceptance, covering a wide range of emotion, hindsight, and insight. Since the poems were written more or less in the moment, and extend over several years, the reader experiences Olds's evolving inner landscape along with her. The perspective is one of shock - with only the slightest hint of possible trouble ahead: while doing the laundry, she found a picture of the "other woman" in her husband's running shorts ("Tiny Siren," p. 56). But "he smiled at me, / and took my hand, and turned to me,/ and said, it seemed not by rote, / but as if it were a physical law / of the earth, I love you. And we made love, / and I felt so close to him - I had not / known he knew how to lie. . ."
 
Throughout much of the book there is this theme of blissful ignorance torn to shreds and a questioning of how the poet could be so deceived in her assumptions about the relationship - "when I thought he loved me, when I thought / we were joined not just for breath's time, / but for the long continuance" ("Unspeakable," p. 4). The realization of self deception and love lost is both annihilating and shameful: "if I pass a mirror, I turn away, / I do not want to look at her, / and she does not want to be seen  . . . I am so ashamed . . . to be known to be left" ("Known to Be Left," p. 18).

These poems are an intense self-examination and an attempt to understand what happened. "I was vain of his / faithfulness, as if it was / a compliment, rather than a state / of partial sleep" ("Stag's Leap," p. 16). "I think he had come, in private, to / feel he was dying, with me" ("Pain I Did Not," p. 26). "maybe what he had for me / was unconditional, temporary / affection and trust, without romance" and "what precision of action / it had taken, for the bodies to hurtle through / the sky for so long without harming each other." ("Crazy," p. 65 ). There is a recognition that their two worlds were vastly different - he a physician, she a poet - and that their personalities were vastly different - he taciturn, she verbal and open. Olds speculates that even her writing about family and marriage could have been a factor in the divorce: "And he did not give / his secrets to his patients, but I gave my secrets / to you, dear strangers, and his, too . . Uneven, uneven, our scales / of contentment went slowly askew" ("Left-Wife Bop," p. 83).

Still, Olds finds something redeeming: "I saw again, how blessed my life has been, / first, to have been able to love, / then, to have the parting now behind me  . . and not to have lost him when he loved me, and not to have / lost someone who could have loved me for life" ("Last Look," p. 14). "What Left?," the last poem in the collection, presents the marriage and its aftermath as a movement: "we did not hold still, we moved, we are moving / still - we made, with each other, a moving / like a kind of music: duet; then solo, / solo." (p. 89)

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The Wellspring

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Mar-05-2008
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Collection (Poems)

Summary:

This latest collection of poems by Sharon Olds is fittingly dedicated to "our daughter and son." Centered on the intense experiences of marital love and parenthood, the book can be read as a (yet unfinished) life-cycle story that begins with the poet narrator’s own conception, birth, and childhood bonds with mother and sister (Part 1). The overpowering awareness of her adolescent sexuality, romantic attachments, and the growth to womanhood, culminating in pregnancy--her daughter’s beginnings--are the subject of the poems in Part 2.

Part 3 describes the birth of her daughter and son, and the deep love and anxieties of parenting, expressed in the small details of daily life and child care. The short Part 4 is a celebration of married love, both erotic and transcendent, and of the powerful emotional connections which are the "wellspring" of human lives--that spawn the children we bring into the world and that help us to love and care for them as well.

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Beyond Harm

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Feb-21-2008
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The poem expresses the devastation that parental abusiveness inflicts and the rationalizations its recipients adopt for emotional survival. In a perverse way, childhood mistreatment by her father meant the narrator was being given his attention. His death has guaranteed that the loving relationship which she had with him at the end of his life is safe from harm. So precarious did she believe his love to be that she feared even now to offend him: "he could / re-skew my life."

 

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The Promise

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A fierce, powerful poem in which sexual and emotional intimacy between a couple reach their ultimate expression in the renewal of a promise "to kill each other", should one or the other become incapacitated. The narrator addresses her (his?) partner directly as "you"; so entwined are these two ("the halves of a single creature") that the reader isn’t certain whether the narrator is a man or a woman. The juxtaposition of the romantic restaurant setting, the deeply intimate thoughts, and the grim subject under discussion is striking: " . . . drinking Fume’ . . . we are taking on earth, we are part soil already . . . and always . . . we are also in our bed, fitted naked closely . . . ." One of the pair is afraid that the other won’t keep the promise, but "you don’t know me if you think I will not kill you."

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35/10

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Jan-09-2007

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

In this vanitas poem a mother's brushing of her pubescent daughter's "dark silken hair" becomes an occasion for meditation on the "story of replacement": the child's impending womanhood and her own mortality.

As the speaker's own skin begins to dry, the daughter's "purse" fills with "eggs, round and firm as hard-boiled yolks." The purse, the speaker knows, is about to snap its reproductive clasp. In her child's handheld mirror the biological differences are noted when the narrator observes her graying hair and folds in her neck that are clearly visible.

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High School Senior

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Aug-24-2006
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A mother reflects on the significance of her daughter’s anticipated departure for college. She compares how she felt before the birth of her daughter--unable to imagine what life would be like with her--and how she feels now, unable to imagine life without her. Since her birth, the child has been an essential part of the mother’s life, "like food or air . . . like a mother."

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Fate

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Aug-21-2006
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is a poem of acceptance and personal strength. The narrator has given up the effort to NOT be like her father, a self-pitying, "defeated" failure. She accepts him, she becomes him, she is transformed: "I /myself, he, I shined." She understands that fate planted her, like a tulip bulb, in that family, and she is now "sure of [her]rightful place."

 

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The Girl

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: May-17-2006
Wear, Delese
Co-Editors

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

This is a graphic, highly-imaged portrayal of rape involving two twelve-year-old girls.

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That Moment

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Dec-31-1996
Aull, Felice
Founder and Editor Emerita

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

The narrator describes the profound impact of motherhood on her life, so profound that she can barely remember a life without children. There has been a conversion to total commitment, " . . . that / instant when I gave my life to them," but when and how did it happen?

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The Waiting

Olds, Sharon

Last Updated: Dec-31-1996
Taylor, Nancy
Annotator

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Summary:

A daughter sits with her dying father during the day, thinking about their relationship, keeping him company as he tries to swallow a little coffee, holding the cup for him to spit into. At night he sleeps with his wife; the next morning he sits again in his chair and looks out at the dawn and seems to be waiting for his daughter once again.

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