Sharon Olds: `Last Night` Essay Example
Sharon Olds: `Last Night` Essay Example

Sharon Olds: `Last Night` Essay Example

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  • Pages: 4 (891 words)
  • Published: April 26, 2017
  • Type: Essay
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Poets traditionally draw inspiration for symbols and metaphors from nature and nature has traditionally offered fertile ground for poets searching for erotic figurative language. In traditional British and American poetry, erotically charged poetry has generally been written from the male perspective. In Sharon Old's poem "Last Night" an erotic encounter, which is also an encounter with nature, is described but the viewpoint in the poem is feminine.  The erotic encounter is described by metaphors and symbols drawn from nature. Olds applies an aggressive imagery and syntax throughout the poem, setting up a tension between submissive and aggressive feelings and images. The feeling of erotic desire is described as: "something twisting and/twisting out of a chrysalis,/enormous, without language," which I thought was a brilliant choice of words because the poem itself demonstrates the oppo


site of what is claimed by the words "without language" or at least suggests that the poet will and should try to describe the indescribable.

Olds' style in "Last Night" is aggressive but somehow feels familiar and not so radical as one might expect given the violence and complexity of her word-choice and images and themes. As one critic remarked, "The work of Sharon Olds is perhaps most representative of a contemporary, less radical generation of women writers who enjoy a new freedom of expression in their work" and therefore the violence and tension in her work stems less from a sense of radical alienation or disenfranchisement than from passion and creativity which emerges from a positivistic energy (Daniels 249).

"Last Night" describes a heterosexual encounter, which in itself places the poem on "traditional" grounds. What makes the poem daring and original is the vivi

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ideas and images, the way the moods and passions of the poem twist and turn  (as in a sexual act or love affair) and the energy of the speaker which fluctuates from almost wistful "The next day, I am almost afraid./Love?" to raging passion "It was more like dragonflies/in the sun, 100 degrees at noon,/
the ends of their abdomens stuck together," in the same breath (Olds).

The poem is very moving because love and lust also are very much a fluctuating and unpredictable experience. It is a powerful component of the poem that the speaker is never really certain of the nature, purpose or real meaning of the encounter any more than she can be certain of the meaning of natural objects and events, of the vagaries and ambiguities of her own thoughts and feelings. Even the poem starts with a line which suggests restraint or even timidity, it immediately surges into graphic figurative language describing the predatory side of nature and human sexual intercourse:

Did I know you? No kiss,
no tenderness-more like killing, death-grip
holding to life, genitals
like violent hands clasped tight
rarely moving, more like being closed
in a great jaw and eaten,


Possibly, Olds' graphic language could offend some readers, particularly male readers, who might feel "quite uncomfortable at being "undressed" in the pages of Olds's poetry in a way that is reminiscent of the centuries-old tradition of undressing women for the gratification of male readers" because Olds allows herself to stare directly into the private ara of human sexuality in the poem "Last Night" and does not shy away from anything.  (Daniels 249)

For me, the heart of the poem, and the most memorable part are these lines,

which suggest the fulfillment of sexual desire as a starting point to some unspecified destination or experience: "After,/you held my hands extremely hard as my/body moved in shudders like the ferry when /its/axle is loosed past engagement, you kept me/sealed exactly against you, our hairlines/wet as the arc of a gateway". The word "gateway" makes this line interesting and thought-provoking.

Even though the destination beyond the "gateay" is unspecified, immediately at any rate, the idea of joy and possibility is revealed in that single word, placed strategically in the poem; the astute reader will begin to get a feel for Olds' "embrace of heterosexuality and her quite unabashed delight in her sexual experiences" which in the final analysis are really the theme of life-affirmation and absorption in life's mysteries. Beneath the predatory and frightening -- often ambiguous -- surface of "Last Night" Olds reaffirms a vision of "true sexual equality[...] with each of the partners active agents of desire and will, both devoted to the creation of a mutual pleasure that diminishes neither" (Daniels 250).

The key to delving beneath the violent surface of the poem is to unlock one's own notion of universality and to view the poem as a root response of the feminine sexual and erotic vision to the traditionally male-centered poetic vision of Eros and sex. The response is, itself, a fulfillment of the erotic and sexual vision of "oneness" or wholeness described in the poem's climax, the ending lines which affirm: "that was love, and we woke in the morning/clasped, fragrant, buoyant, that was/the morning after love."

"Last Night" is a beautiful, creative, daringly original and deeply thought-provoking poem. In addition to my

admiration for the poem's themes, images, figurative language and depth -- I would add that the poem's closing lines, wrapping all of the confusion of multitude of emotions in the preceding lines into a positive conclusion, seemed very powerful.

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