Themes and Meanings

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

The many faces of Olds’s relationship to her father are represented in over fifty poems in The Father and in many other poems by Olds published before and after. One of her fortes is poetry about relationships—she has written numerous poems about, for instance, her son, her daughter, her husband, and her elder sister. Curiously, although Olds’s mother is occasionally mentioned in her poetry, her father seems to be, by far, her most animating subject. This must be due, in part, to Olds’s implied model of conception, in which personhood originates in a single sperm (with the father) while the mother presumably serves as a sort of incubator. Thus, Olds the author/poet is authored by her father, making her connection to him uniquely significant.

Putting dozens of poems in a nutshell, Olds appears to be entranced with the idea of “the father” but rather disappointed with the actual model allotted her. The moments of tenderness between them primarily take place without mutual conscious intention—as in the many poems in which Olds treats her dying and unconscious father with tenderness. He is matter, revered for having cast her into the world, connected by the mystery of biology, and valued as such despite failing by the usual measures of fatherhood: According to other poems, for instance, he was an alcoholic, thrown out of the house by Olds’s mother to a chorus of cheers from the children. Olds’s treatment of her father as more matter...

(The entire section is 559 words.)