"I Go Back to May 1937" by Sharon Olds

The book's three remaining sections return to themes powerfully treated in her earlier volumes, and : father and mother, sexuality, son and daughter. In "I Go Back to May 1937," the poet pictures her parents on the brink of their marriage and is tempted to warn them to stop:

I Go Back to May 1937, Sharon Olds

I Go Back to May 1937 by Sharon Olds | Poetry Foundation

Sharon Olds's poem "I Go Back to May 1937" is included in her collection The Gold Cell, published in 1987. Like much of Olds's poetry, "I Go Back to May 1937" is concerned with exploring the relationship between wife and husband, parents and children. In this poem the speaker travels back to a time just before her parents' marriage so that she might warn them of the mistake they are about to make. Although the speaker knows her parents will face pain, she cannot stop their union, since to do so would deny her own existence. She wants to live and so these people must be permitted to marry.

I Go Back to May 1937 Related Poem Content Details

For her readers, Olds's poems seem very personal, including "I Go Back to May 1937." Many of her poems are concerned with the speaker's relationship with her father, as she seeks to understand his alcoholism, his abandonment of his family through divorce, and his painful death. The exploration of her parents' marriage—beginning as this poem does, just prior to their wedding—presents the essential paradox. The speaker wishes her parents had never married, had never made one another's lives so miserable. She wishes her own childhood had been spared the torment of her parents' unhappiness, and yet to eliminate their marriage would be to eliminate the speaker. This paradox gives the poem a unique tension.

Source: Sheri E. Metzger, Critical Essay on "I Go Back to May 1937," in , The Gale Group, 2003.
Sharon Olds: I Go Back to May 1937

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it, she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.Sharon Olds's poem 'I Go Back to May 1937' is composed of 30 lines, with the first nine lines beginning with an exploration of two adults (man and woman) signified by the terms 'gates' and 'colleges.' Both adults are from two different backgrounds and locations. Olds uses visual language to depict the differences between the two adults. For example, image of the man is depicted in terms of 'clay walls,' references to 'glinting' titles, and architectural features of Arizona and California. In contrast, the image of the man is depicted in terms of a 'pillar made of tiny bricks,' references to the location of a wrought iron gate. Olds implies that the woman passes through the gate to begin a new life. Her college may be located in New England, in the northeastern part of the United States. In these lines, Olds further provides a contrast between the two adults. The woman emerges with books, while the man does not. Man and woman are separate in terms of not only gender, but also culture, location, and academia. In lines 10-12, the speaker of the poem establishes 'innocence' as a theme. Both the man and the woman are innocent of the troubles that lie ahead. As they graduate from college, they enter life with the hope of happiness, not understanding the pain that will come as a result of marrying too early in life. The speaker functions as a third-person observer (omniscient), talking to the reader about the dooms that lie ahead. These lines prepare the reader for the speaker's attempts (considerations) in lines 13-19. The speaker considers stopping the wedding. Olds uses language that creates an urgency in the poem to prevent the man and woman from coming together. By the end of these lines, Olds uses the word 'misery' to describe the end of the couple. In lines 20-25, Olds uses the speaker to inject warnings from the future. Even though the speaker wants to stop the union between the two adults, the speaker can't bring herself to do it. The hungriness of the woman to seize opportunity prevails against the speaker's efforts. The arrogance of the man brings much confidence to the poem, which in turn, prevents the speaker from approaching him. By the end of 'I Go Back to May 1937,' lines 26-30, the speaker acknowledges and accepts the futility of her plans, because she realizes that she cannot change the past.
Actor John Lithgow reads the poem “I Go Back to May 1937,” by Pulitzer Prize winner Sharon Olds.

I Go Back To May 1937 Poem by Sharon Olds - Poem Hunter

Poem: "I Go Back to May 1937," by Sharon Olds, fromTheGoldCell (Alfred A. Knopf).It's the birthday in , 1952 of playwright BETHHENLEY, winnerof the 1981 Pulitzer Prize for the comedy Crimes of theHeart.It's the anniversary of V-E DAY, 1945, "Victory in EuropeDay."It's the birthday in Glen Cove, Long Island, 1937, of novelist andshort-story writerTHOMAS PYNCHON, author of the 1973 novel , whichwon the National Book Award.It was on this day in 1541 that the Spaniard sightedtheMississippi River, the first European explorer of the New World to doso.

"I Go Back to May 1937."  Poetry for Students. .  (December 15, 2016).

I Go Back to May 1937 by Taylor St. Germain on Prezi

For her readers, Olds's poems seem very personal, including "I Go Back to May 1937." Many of her poems are concerned with the speaker's relationship with her father, as she seeks to understand his alcoholism, his abandonment of his family through divorce, and his painful death. The exploration of her parents' marriage—beginning as this poem does, just prior to their wedding—presents the essential paradox. The speaker wishes her parents had never married, had never made one another's lives so miserable. She wishes her own childhood had been spared the torment of her parents' unhappiness, and yet to eliminate their marriage would be to eliminate the speaker. This paradox gives the poem a unique tension.

We've had both I Go Back to May 1937, and Outdoor Shower as contributions for past weekly poems.

Weekly Poem: 'I Go Back to May 1937' | PBS NewsHour

Olds's poem "I Go Back to May 1937" explores the meeting of two people, whom the speaker would rather stay apart. Readers may assume the poem is about Olds's parents, though Olds has eliminated such easy analysis of her work by limiting public knowledge of her family life. What is known is that Olds married and that her two children were born while she was still a student at Columbia. Olds has also spoken frankly about the influence of religion on her life, noting that she was brought up to be a Calvinist Christian, with strong beliefs in punishment and hell.