An Explication of Sharon Olds’ Poem, Feared Drowned Essay

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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
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Throughout the poem, Olds use consonance sounds, particularly “s” “w” and “z” sounds, to recreate the sounds of the surf, and perhaps even the sound of gasping for air. In this respect, even the very sound of this poem reinforces its central idea of drowning.

In the third stanza, the speaker scans the swimmers emerging from the water, realizing that none of them is her husband. The lack of emotion in her tone suggests that the speaker is experiencing that state of simultaneous detachment and connection that often occurs in moments of intense panic. The sense of foreboding is reinforced in the fourth stanza: “Rocks stick out near the shore like heads / Kelp snakes in like a shed black suit…” One wonders if the shed black suit is meant to be a symbol for typical funereal attire, perhaps the black suit the speaker fears she will bury her husband in. It is not until the fifth stanza that the speaker’s body belies her fear and shock with a natural physiological response: “My stomach begins to contract as if to / vomit salt water.”

As her husband emerges from the surf in the last stanza, the tone of the poem switches from one of darkness and fear, to one that is philosophical: “Once you lose someone
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