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 family that goes terribly awry. This could be considered an example of irony, in that one would normally view a day at the beach as a happy and carefree time. In “Feared Drowned,” Olds paints a very different scenario, using dark imagery to create the setting: “…suit black as seaweed / Rocks sticks out near shore like heads.” The poem illuminates moments of intense fear, anxiety and the element of a foreseen sense of doom. Written as a direct, free-style verse using the first-person narrative, the poem opens with the narrator suspecting that her husband may have drowned. When Olds writes in her opening line: “Suddenly nobody knows where you are,” this signals to the reader that we are with the narrator as she makes this fearful discovery.
While fear plays an essential role in the poem, Olds never mentions the emotion itself, except in the title. Instead, she elicits the sense of fear with the words she uses, such as “suddenly,” and vivid imagery of death, darkness and water: “…like a shed black suit / and I cannot find you.” Her husband’s swimsuit is described as “black as seaweed…” and his head as “slick as a seal’s.” The reader walks with her closer to the shore, as she wraps her towel around her shoulders “like a widow’s shawl…” The sense of foreboding in her tone is captivating, and keeps the reader enthralled as the poem unfolds. 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...