In this paper I will discuss two poems by Sharon Olds. They are both taken from her collection “The Dead and the Living” and are entitled “The Eye” and “Poem to My Husband from my Fathers Daughter.”
Olds is a contemporary writer who expertly maneuvers her work through modern life. In this particular collection, written in 1983, she takes us on an explorative journey through both the past and present of family life. I will explore the role of the family in both these poems and how, through the collection, a realization and acceptance is reached.
I felt it fitting to choose these two poems, as the first one is taken from “Poems for the living” and the second from “Poems for the dead.” This collection of poems explores the role of family within society, how through its dysfunction we can learn to exist as a person despite the odds. The collection helps Olds’ explore the truth about family and how we learn to eventually accept them, one way or another.
The poems, according to Contemporary literary Criticism move from “The public to the private as the collection turns from the dead towards the living.” (Gaffrey 121)
What struck me about these two poems in particular is the universal truths they reveal, firstly in “The Eye,” how one learns to hate, and then resent and in “A Poem to my Husband from My Father’s Daughter,” how a woman come to terms with her father’s legacy.
The first poem I will discuss is from the first portion of the book and as I analyze the piece, it is easy to see the distinction between the tone of the two poems. “The Eye” begins by saying: “Bad Grandfather wouldn’t feed us. He turned the lights out when we tried to read”(19).
This line is a stark image that draws a clear picture of the pain this child associated with this man. As the poem continues, we are invited to see more “Snapshots of the darker side of family life” (Gaffrey 22). According to Brian Dillon in his essay the poems speaker is responding both as a child and an adult (Dillon 109). This becomes more evident to me as the poem continues, “H...
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... she can make others happy.
To conclude these two poems are distinctly different in the message they relay. “The Eye” reveals the raw emotion of a child when faced with cruelty within the family unit. Olds has a unique ability to reveal these emotions with the sense to keep the descriptions brief and stark for the greatest impact.
Then comes the realization for escape as an adult through the trap door under the bed. “The Poem to My Husband from My Father’s Daughter”(56) gives the reader another strong and concise poem to explore. Again Olds doesn’t mince words, preferring to relay the message of acceptance through short sentences and a short poem. The pain and suffering are evident within these poems, however in agreement with Gaffey in Contemporary Literary Criticism I believe these poems to be designed as family album of snapshots, however horrible they might be they result “in a kind of recognition of family life.”(123)
With this in mind I would agree with Dillon and Hudziks notion that Olds’ poems do not come across as a soul in torment, more of a journey to liberate herself. These poems take us on a journey of self-discovery that is evident very evident in these two poems.
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