The Promise

Olds, Sharon

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Oct-18-1999
  • Last revised: Jan-09-2007


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."


This is a remarkable love poem which considers one possible logical outcome of passion and devotion: euthanasia. In the interplay of sexuality, love, shared experience, and loyalty, these vows for an agreed-upon death seem completely natural.


First published in The New Yorker, June 11, 1990.

Primary Source

Blood, Tin, Straw



Place Published

New York