An Explication of Sharon Olds’ Poem “Feared Drowned.”
Fear is an amazing emotion, in that it has both psychological as well as physiological effects on the human body. In instances of extreme fear, the mind is able to function in a way that is detached and connected to the event simultaneously. In “Feared Drowned,” Sharon Olds presents, in six brief stanzas, this type of instance. Her sparse use of language, rich with metaphors, similes and dark imagery, belies the horror experienced by the speaker. She closes the poem with a philosophical statement about life and the after-effects that these moments of horror can have on our lives and relationships.
The setting of the poem is a day at the ocean with the family that goes terribly awry. This could be considered an example of irony, in that one would normally view a day at the beach as a happy and carefree time. In “Feared Drowned,” Olds paints a very different scenario, using dark imagery to create the setting: “…suit black as seaweed / Rocks sticks out near shore like heads.” The poem illuminates moments of intense fear, anxiety and the element of a foreseen sense of doom. Written as a direct, free-style verse using the first-person narrative, the poem opens with the narrator suspecting that her husband may have drowned. When Olds writes in her opening line: “Suddenly nobody knows where you are,” this signals to the reader that we are with the narrator as she makes this fearful discovery.
While fear plays an essential role in the poem, Olds never mentions the emotion itself, except in the title. Instead, she elicits the sense of fear with the words she uses, such as “suddenly,” and vivid imagery of death, darkness and water: “…like ...
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...me again. The deserted or betrayed party will always look upon their spouse differently, thinking and fearing that they will be betrayed again, or left, with no warning. Hurt and pain will be a constant companion, and they will find themselves always questioning their partner’s motives and actions. Perhaps trust is damaged or even destroyed.
People move in and out of our lives for a specific reason. Everyone serves a purpose in the journey of life. We are constantly evolving, choosing new paths, and forming new bonds. As we evolve there is the possibility that our friend, spouse, or acquaintance will not evolve with us. Therefore, the next time we encounter them in our life they will never seem the same again. The fear and changes the speaker in “Feared Drowned” felt when she finally found her husband, after presuming him dead, evoke everyday experiences.
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