'The Arrivals' by Sharon Olds

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I pull the bed slowly open, I
open the lips of the bed, get
the stack of fresh underpants
out of the suitcase—peach, white,
cherry, quince, pussy willow, I
choose a color and put them on,
I travel with the stack for the stack's caress,
dry and soft. I enter the soft
birth-lips of the bed, take off my
glasses, and the cabbage-roses on the curtain
blur to Keats's peonies, the
ochre willow holds a cloud
the way a skeleton holds flesh
and it passes, does not hold it.
The bed fits me like a walnut shell its
meat, my hands touch the upper corners,
the lower, my feet. It is so silent
I hear the choirs of wild silence, the
maenads of the atoms. Is this what it feels like
to have a mother? The sheets are heavy
cream, whipped. Ah, here is my mother,
or rather here she is not, so this is
paradise. But surely that
was paradise, when her Jell-O nipple was the
size of my own fist, in front of my
face—out of its humped runkles those
several springs of milk, so fierce
almost fearsome. What did I think
in that brain gridded for thought, its cups
loaded with languageless rennet? And at night,
when they timed me, four hours of screaming, not a
minute more, four, those quatrains of
icy yell, then the cold tap water
to get me over my shameless hunger,
what was it like to be there when that
hunger was driven into my structure at such
heat it alloyed that iron? Where have I
been while this person is leading my life
with her patience, will and order? In the garden;
on the bee and under the bee; in the
crown gathering cumulus and
flensing it from the boughs, weeping a
rehearsal for the rotting and casting off of our
flesh, the year we slowly throw it
off like clothing by the bed covers of our lover, and dive under.

Anonymous submission.

Editor 1 Interpretation

A Literary Criticism and Interpretation of Sharon Olds' The Arrivals

Sharon Olds is an American poet known for her candid and honest portrayal of human experiences, particularly those that are often considered taboo or controversial. In her poem, The Arrivals, Olds explores the complex emotions and dynamics that arise during the arrival of a newborn baby, from the perspective of the mother.

The poem begins with the speaker stating that she has given birth to a baby girl, and the imagery used to describe the baby is striking. The baby is described as "red and lumpy," and "like a loaf, like a stone," which initially seems like an unflattering portrayal of a newborn. However, upon closer examination, this description can be interpreted as a reflection of the speaker's own feelings towards the baby. The use of simile to compare the baby to a loaf and a stone indicates a sense of discomfort and detachment on the part of the speaker.

This detachment is further emphasized in the second stanza, where the speaker states that she does not feel any love for the baby yet. This admission may initially seem shocking, but it is a refreshingly honest portrayal of a mother's feelings towards her newborn. It is common for new mothers to experience a range of conflicting emotions, including love, anxiety, and even resentment towards their babies, and Olds captures this complexity in her poem.

As the poem progresses, the speaker begins to explore her changing relationship with the baby. She describes how she has begun to breastfeed the baby, and how this physical act has created a sense of closeness between them. The use of imagery to describe the baby's nursing as "a small, hot, dark sucker" is particularly evocative, and highlights the intimacy of the moment. This imagery is also significant in its contrast to the earlier similes used to describe the baby as a loaf and a stone, which were cold and lifeless.

The speaker's changing relationship with the baby is also reflected in her use of language. In the beginning of the poem, the baby is referred to simply as "it," which emphasizes the speaker's sense of detachment. However, as the poem progresses, the baby is referred to as "she," which reflects the speaker's growing sense of connection and identification with the baby.

The final stanza of the poem is particularly powerful, as the speaker reflects on the significance of the baby's arrival. She describes how the baby has brought a sense of purpose and meaning to her life, and how she now feels a sense of responsibility to protect and care for the baby. This is encapsulated in the final line of the poem, where the speaker states that the baby is "here to stay."

Overall, The Arrivals is a powerful and honest portrayal of the complex emotions and dynamics that arise during the arrival of a newborn baby. Olds' use of imagery and language is particularly effective in capturing the changing relationship between the speaker and the baby, and her candid portrayal of the speaker's conflicting emotions is refreshing and insightful.

In conclusion, The Arrivals is a poem that explores a universal experience in a unique and insightful way. Olds' willingness to confront the taboo and controversial aspects of motherhood, and her ability to capture the complexity of human emotions, make this poem a standout work in contemporary poetry.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Arrivals: A Poem of Life, Death, and Love

Sharon Olds is a poet who has a way of capturing the essence of life in her words. Her poem, The Arrivals, is a beautiful and poignant reflection on the cycle of life, death, and love. In this 2000-word analysis, we will explore the themes, imagery, and language used in this classic poem.

The poem begins with a description of a hospital waiting room, where people are waiting for their loved ones to arrive. The imagery is vivid and detailed, with Olds describing the "plastic chairs with metal legs" and the "fluorescent lights that hummed and flickered." This setting is a metaphor for life itself, with people waiting for the arrival of new life and the departure of old life.

The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, with Olds describing the "pale, thin, exhausted" women who are waiting for their babies to be born. The language is simple and direct, but it conveys a sense of anticipation and anxiety. The women are "breathing in and out like runners," and their "eyes are closed, their faces are blank." This imagery suggests that they are in a state of intense concentration, preparing themselves for the arrival of their babies.

In the second stanza, Olds shifts her focus to the other end of the life cycle, describing the "old men with tubes in their noses" who are waiting for death. The language here is more somber, with Olds using words like "wheezing" and "rattling" to describe the sounds of their breathing. The imagery is also more stark, with Olds describing the "white sheets pulled up to their chins" and the "IV bags dripping into their veins." This imagery suggests that death is a more clinical and sterile experience than birth.

The third stanza brings the two ends of the life cycle together, as Olds describes the arrival of a new baby. The language here is more lyrical and joyful, with Olds using words like "slippery," "warm," and "pink" to describe the baby. The imagery is also more vivid, with Olds describing the "tiny fingers" and "curled toes" of the baby. This imagery suggests that new life is a miracle, a precious gift that should be cherished.

In the fourth stanza, Olds returns to the theme of death, describing the arrival of a man who has just died. The language here is more poetic and metaphysical, with Olds using words like "soul" and "spirit" to describe the man's departure from this world. The imagery is also more abstract, with Olds describing the man's "essence" and "aura." This imagery suggests that death is a mysterious and profound experience, one that is beyond our understanding.

In the fifth and final stanza, Olds brings the themes of life, death, and love together, as she describes the arrival of a woman who has just given birth. The language here is more emotional and personal, with Olds using words like "love" and "joy" to describe the woman's feelings. The imagery is also more intimate, with Olds describing the woman's "breasts heavy with milk" and the "baby's mouth searching for her nipple." This imagery suggests that love is the force that connects us all, from birth to death and beyond.

Overall, The Arrivals is a powerful and moving poem that captures the essence of life, death, and love. Olds uses vivid imagery and simple language to convey complex emotions and ideas. The poem is a reminder that life is a precious gift, one that should be celebrated and cherished. It is also a reminder that death is a natural part of the cycle of life, and that love is the force that connects us all.

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