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Poetry is the kind of art creators of which convey their thoughts in various ways, giving food for thought to their audience. Every poet has their own style, and quite often, the only possible approach to comparing works by different authors is analyzing the themes and ideas expressed. Studying “After Making Love in Winter” by Sharon Olds and “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” by Linda Pastan is both challenging and very interesting. The two female authors have some personal stories that impacted their creative lives. In Pastan’s poems, much attention is given to the problem of life, death, and survival (Rubin 1).
Meanwhile, Olds’s poetry is focused on physicality, sexuality, and personal relationships (Dillingham). While the topics in the two poems seem different, it is still possible to find some similarities between them. In particular, both poets’ literary works were influenced by their family life. Thus, there are some similarities and differences in “After Making Love in Winter” and “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” based on their creators’ personal lives, perceptions, and the level of openness.
The Main Ideas in the Poems
Generally, it is possible to say that the major themes in both pieces are similar, and they are solicitude and the desire to understand oneself better. It is a common aspect in two works, but looking at them in detail allows concluding that there are some peculiar angles of this solicitude which each poet tries to explain in a different way. In Pastan’s work, the state of loneliness and fear is depicted: the author is “learning to abandon the world” (1), and she has already “given up the moon / and snow” (3-4).
The poet complains about the world, saying that it “has taken” her father and friends (Pastan 6-7). Pastan has “given up melodic lines of hills” (8) and some other things that used to make her life joyful. Each of these issues used to be important to the author, and she feels sad because of that. Therefore, the title and the initial line in the poem are concerned with “learning to abandon the world” (Pastan 1) before it abandons the poet. Thus, Pastan’s poem concentrates on the fear of becoming left out and neglected.
The emphasis in Olds’s poem is also put on loneliness, but this is a different type of loneliness: a somehow selfish type, where the poet speaks only of her own physical and sexual senses. The partner is only mentioned a few times: “at those points our bodies touch” (Olds 8), “you run your palm, warm, large, / dry” (Olds 23-24). The rest of the poem is dedicated to the woman’s contemplations and thoughts.
As well as Pastan, Olds seems dissatisfied with the state of affairs in which she finds herself. The narrator says that “anything is painful, a plate of / iron laid down on my nerves” (Olds 2-3). At the same time, Olds’s poem conveys the theme of satisfaction upon intercourse. This idea is expressed in the following lines: “a / figure throwing up its arms for joy” (Olds 12-13), “you can see that the angle itself is blessed” (Olds 15), and “everything I look at is real / and good” (Olds 21-22).
Moreover, the poet ends her piece optimistically, comparing her lover’s touch to God “putting the finish touches on, before / sending me down to be born” (Olds 26-27). Thus, even though Olds’s poem is common with Pastan’s one in that both of them describe solicitude, there is quite a large contrast between them. In Pastan’s piece, the narrator speaks of the movement towards dying whereas in Olds’s poem, there is the indication of life.
The Author’s Voice in the Poems
An important aspect of comparing poems is analyzing the author’s voice in both of them. In case of the works in question, it is relevant to say that the author’s voice is prominent. Both Olds and Pastan uncover their thoughts and express their opinions in poems. At the same time, the two poets are not trying to be persuasive but are just describing their personal experiences.
Pastan shares some sad instances such as the loss of her father and friends. It is not clear from the context, but it seems that either the poet’s father and friends passed away or they have not communicated with her for a long time due to being busy. Further, Pastan’s voice is reflected in the description of hardships she had experienced and is still experiencing. The author notes that every night, she gives her body up “limb by limb… towards the heart” (Pastan 11-12).
When she tries to take her body back, the sun “lays its warm muzzle” on her lap “as if to make amends” (Pastan 20-21). The use of the word “amends” may be interpreted in the following way: the sun wants to alter something about the narrator’s world, and the latter is afraid of these changes. Thus, in “I Am Learning to Abandon the World,” the author’s voice is prominent, and it is manifested through the expression of Pastan’s thoughts and apprehensions.
The author’s voice in the poem by Olds is also clearly expressed. As well as Pastan, Olds describes her thoughts and impressions. The poet mentions a variety of states in which she finds herself: at first, she “cannot even have a sheet” on her, then, she “cool[s] off” slowly, from the state of being “hot” to the feeling of “ice” (Olds 1, 5-6). Further, the narrator depicts the room in which she finds herself: the door, hall, ceiling, mirror, and chandelier.
For each of these objects, Olds has exquisite attributes that help the reader to visualize the room. Also, Olds pays attention to her body, mentioning her ovaries two times: “I can / feel my ovaries deep in my body” and “maybe I am / looking at my ovaries” (17-18, 19-20). Although there are some divergences in the topics of description, both poems have a prominently expressed author’s voice.
The Impact of Poets’ Personal Lives on the Poems
Analyzing an author may be a useful way of analyzing the work. Some external information on Olds and Pastan may help to explain the themes of their works in general and in the two analyzed pieces in particular. In the article by Rubin, Pastan’s biography is analyzed through the prism of her national identity. The author notes that being Jewish has affected the poet and has been reflected in many of her works (Rubin 1).
Rubin mentions that “one’s identity evolves over a lifetime,” and it helps to explain the life cycle of a person (1). Although Pastan did not live during the Holocaust, the past experience of her ancestors had an impression on her (Rubin 2). The scholar also remarks that for Pastan, her family and culture are “a recurrent theme” (4). Therefore, it is possible to assume that in “I Am Learning to Abandon the World,” the poet returns to her identity and conveys the idea of hopelessness that many Jews experienced during the Holocaust.
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Learning about Olds’s life also can help in understanding her poetry better. Dillingham mentions that Olds is considered to be “a poet of direct and painful honesty” (1). Critics describe Olds’s works as “self-indulgent, sensationalist, and even pornographic” (Dillingham 1).
Furthermore, Dillingham remarks that Olds had some family issues, such as living with the “alcoholic father” (1). The information on Olds’s personal life helps to understand the reason for such straightforwardness and openness in her works. Thus, it is viable to conclude that learning about authors helps to comprehend their poetry better. Still, stories behind poems are quite different for Olds and Pastan, so there are no similarities in this respect. Probably the only thing in common is that both poets have had some unpleasant memories, but the latter are not similar.
Poems “I Am Learning to Abandon the World” by Linda Pastan and “After Making Love in Winter” by Sharon Olds present many exciting aspects of comparison and contrast. Although the specific angles of each work are different, the general topic, solicitude, is the same. In both poems, the author’s voice is prominently expressed, each author describing her thoughts and emotions. Another similar feature is that family life has had an effect on each poet. Even though the detailed analysis has revealed some divergences between the two pieces, their common features allow analyzing them in accord. Comparing and contrasting the poems has proved to be a successful method of identifying unique features while noticing the overall similarity in the general theme.
Dillingham, Thomas F. “Olds, Sharon.” Continuum Encyclopedia of American Literature, edited by Steven Serafin and Alfred Bendixen. 1st ed., Continuum, 2005. Credo Reference. Web.
Olds, Sharon. “After Making Love in Winter.” Poetry, 1987, p. 82.
Pastan, Linda. “I Am Learning to Abandon the World.” Poetry, 1981, p. 329.
Rubin, Lois Elinoff. “Jewish Identity over the Life Cycle: Poems by Maxine Kumin and Linda Pastan.” Women in Judaism: A Multidisciplinary Journal, vol. 7, no. 2, 2010, pp. 1-22.