The Poem

(Critical Guide to Poetry for Students)

“The Feelings” is a forty-one-line poem in free verse, artistically recounting the poet’s feelings immediately following her father’s death. It is highly personal and familial, as are many of Sharon Olds’s poems. Written in the first person and past tense, the experience seems fixed, inevitable, available to retrospective analysis. The poem begins in a hospital room, the poet watching as an intern “listened” to her father’s stopped heart, and concludes with the poet contemplating the meaning of life the following morning as her husband lies atop her. The “feelings” include physical sensations—such as her father’s “faintly moist” face and hair “like a wolf’s”—and emotional and philosophical reactions to the father’s death.

Inasmuch as it recounts her reaction to her father’s death and moves her beyond that death, “The Feelings” may be considered an elegy. However, unlike traditional elegies such as John Milton’s “Lycidas,” Percy Bysshe Shelley’s “Adonais,” or Matthew Arnold’s “Rugby Chapel,” there is no recounting of the wonderful qualities of the deceased or sorrow at the loss of this positive force in the world. Olds’s father apparently deserved no such praise (a conclusion bolstered by references to him in other Olds poems). Nor was he a figure to arouse intense hatred, as is found, for instance, in Sylvia Plath’s “Daddy.” He was more of a nonentity, whose claim to attention is that...

(The entire section is 524 words.)