Apr 17, 2010

On Sharon Olds

In the spirit of National Poetry month, I'm going to occasionally post poems that mean something to me during the month of April. The poem I want to share with you today is from the book The Father by Sharon Olds - one of the most harrowing books I have read in my life.

The Father by Sharon OldsThe Father chronicle the speaker's experience of watching her father die of cancer. And it isn't only the loss, the grief, and the physical details of terminal illness (from which Olds does not shy away) that make it such a brutal and moving book. It's also the fact that the speaker always had a very conflicted relationship with her father, and as the clock ticks and the end approaches, she struggles between a fragile, tentative love and a lifetime of resentment; between acceptance and a desperate need to part on good terms; between forgiveness and raw pain. The following poem, one of my favourites in the collection, expresses this perfectly.

“Beyond Harm” by Sharon Olds

“A week after my father died
suddenly I understood
his fondness for me was safe—nothing
could touch it. In those last months,
his face would sometimes brighten when I would
enter the room, and his wife said
that once, when he was half asleep,
he smiled when she said my name. He respected
my spunk—when they tied me to the chair, that time,
they were tying up someone he respected, and when
he did not speak, for weeks, I was one of the
beings to whom he was not speaking,
someone with a place in his life. The last
week he even said it, once,
by mistake. I walked into his room, and said “How
are you,” and he said, “I love you
too.” From then on, I had
that word to lose. Right up to the last
moment, I could make some mistake, offend him, and with
one of his old mouths of disgust he could re-
skew my life. I did not think of it,
I was helping to take care of him,
wiping his face and watching him.
But then, a while after he died,
I suddenly thought, with amazement, he will always
love me now, and I laughed—he was dead, dead!”

I was about to publish this post when I realised that poetry is the theme of this week's Weekly Geeks - which made me happy, because I haven't participated in far too long. Click the link for more poetry posts.


  1. i like the poem ,new name for me sharon olds ,i do read some poetry and enjoy garrisons kellars daily podcast about writing that has a poem read every day ,all the best stu

  2. Gosh that is a really moving poem. It must be the worst thing to watch someone you have such conflicted feelings for die. I think she has really captured something about it there though.

  3. Heavy stuff. I don't read a lot of poetry, but when I do, I always find it powerful.

  4. I really am no fan of poetry, but I like this particular one.It might be because it reads like a little story, not so much like a poem. It certainly is very sad and moving.

  5. Hi Nymeth,

    Wow this is a timely poem for me and my niece...how very true.

    I am going to send it to my niece


  6. A difficult poem in meaning. I suppose there's some hatred going on there between father and daughter.
    I'm not that great with poems so if I'm not correct, forgive me :)

  7. Oh how sad. That made me want to go over to my parents' place and give my lovely father a hug. I'm loving seeing all these poems posted for National Poetry Month. (Should really do one myself.)

  8. Wow, what a powerful poem. It sounds like that book is full of pain!

  9. Shock of shock - I not only understood that poem but I liked it too! I think I need to try more modern poetry. Maybe my problem is that i keep trying old poets...

  10. wow, that is really heavy. Thanks for posting it Nymeth. Such conflicting emotions.

  11. That poem said a whole bunch with very few words, and did so in a clear and understandable manner. Thanks for the reading suggestion!

  12. This sounds like a very interesting book, Ana. That poem was kind of heartbreaking. But good.

  13. WOW - that is a powerful piece...

    And I can relate... good choice.

    Thank you..


  14. Great choice of poems. Even with only printing one out of the book you get such a feeling for the rest of the story. I love it!

  15. I haven't read Olds before, but this poem is beautiful. Thanks for sharing another great one out there!

  16. Powerful, indeed. Olds stares life right in the face and doesn't back down. Terrific choice, thank you!

  17. I’m so glad you’re posting poetry this month, I’ve been enjoying every poem you posted so far! I am not a big poetry reader, but I always wish to read more and discover good poetry books… I loved this one in particular,
    “by mistake. I walked into his room, and said “How are you,” and he said, “I love you too.”
    So simple yet so powerful!

  18. What a lovely poem. Olds is amazing.

  19. I own this book and love reading it at times.

    Thanks for sharing this!

    I wrote a poem:

    Weekly Geeks: Poetry

  20. I love Sharon Olds! But I hadn't read this book/poem. Thanks for reminding me to check out more of her stuff.

  21. Sad, yet not. Thanks for sharing this one.

  22. Sounds like an amazing book overall. Thanks!

  23. That's a beautiful poem- very touching. Thanks for sharing :)

  24. aw, what a touching poem! Thanks for sharing about this collection. Sounds incredibly poignant.

  25. I've loved Sharon Olds' poetry ever since she came to the U of MD, College Park in the 1980s and read her poem "The Pope's Penis" to a standing-room-only crowd. One of my favorites is Alcatraz, from her volume The Gold Cell. In fact, I think today I'll feature that poem at Necromancy Never Pays, since you've made me think of it again!

  26. I know that I don't have enough poetry in my life. Thanks for sharing this one. And what a beautifully simply cover.

  27. What a touching poem. I do like the sound of this book and might have to try to grab a copy. There is a big dearth of poetry in my life, and I have been looking for a way to fill it. Thanks for sharing that excellent piece.

  28. I've only read a couple of Olds' poems in collections but now I realize I should really look for one of her books. Very moving. THank you for this one!


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