In “The Living and The Dead” Sharon Olds breaks the book into sections, starting first with a section on the dead, with subsections on public and family poems. In the public section one poem that stood out to me was entitled “The Death of Marilyn Monroe,” for it embodied everything about the woman that I have ever heard about her. Miss Monroe is spoken of by men from her time as being an angel, and otherworldly, and this poem shows the effect that her dead body had on two men who removed her body. In the poem, the men are not sad that Marilyn Monroe is dead, but they are in awe that they got to see her beauty right before their eyes. It affected these men for the rest of their lives, so much so that other women, living women still could not equal her to them.
No one could match her to them. The main characters of the poems in this book come from, presumably the authors family. In the section on the Dead, Olds writes several poems; “The Guild,” “The Eye,” and “All The Dead That Have Come to Me, This Once” about how she hated her grandfather. “The Guild” tells of her memories of her father as a young college man sitting by the fire with his father, drinking their drinks, and sharing secrets of life.
The poem is laced with a strong resentment for her grandfather, basically blaming him for the way that her father would later treat her. She calls her father an apprentice, one who is learning the ways, as she says “of oblivion”, on how to be a cruel person from his father. The Guild is in a sense the passage of knowledge from one man, a father to another man, a son. “The Eye” is almost a follow-up to “The Guild,” because it is about the speakers grandfather, the man the speaker loathes. The title refers to the fact that the grandfather has a glass eye (stated in both “The Guild” and “The Eye”).
She sees her grandfather as a heartless man, one whom her father would adopt his awful ways. Her grandfather had no problem with putting an empty plate in front of a child for dinner, he would turn the lights out on the children when they would try to read, etc. She talks about how she pictured him at night, asleep with his wife, with one eye open, just a black void projected from him of evil. The image of the glass eye and of him being a bad man may be a parallel on the belief in the evil eye. It is believed by some that people who have been disfigured can be marked by the evil eye, and are capable of evil things, including being a cruel person. The fact that he has a glass eye in some way means that he is disfigured, and that when he sleeps he just has a blank stare suggest something is wrong.
The last poem in this trilogy of hatred for her grandfather the speaker is telling of how she hopes that her grandfather is dead. The speaker states that she has never wished for anyone to be dead, but when news came to her that something had happened to her grandfather, she wished that he were indeed gone. She thought of some of the awful things that he had done to her. These three poems do not follow any particular form; they do not rhyme, and they dont have any set structure (stanzas, line breaks, etc. ), they are just narratives on her feelings towards her grandfather.
Her children inspire several of the poems in the section on the living, and all are written with a very clear pride in them. “Rite of Passage” is about