Throughout this poem, the speaker uses clear and direct language to discuss the inevitability of her death and her daughter’s replacement of her. She knows that one day she’s going to die, and her daughter is going to take over her role in the world. She can see this through her graying hair and her daughter’s sharpening hips. ’35/10’ is incredibly relatable, telling an age-old story that all readers can relate to in one way or another.
’35/10’ by Sharon Olds is about a mother/daughter relationship. The latter is starting to become a woman while the former is going grey and getting more wrinkles and folds.
In the first lines of this piece, the speaker describes brushing her daughter’s hair. She compares it to her own and describes herself as a servant, standing behind her daughter as she grows more beautiful. She sees the changes happening in her daughter’s body and recognizes how they juxtapose with those happening in her own. Furthermore, she’s getting old, and her daughter is becoming a woman. The speaker sees how her daughter is going to replace her in the world. She’s going to be the woman the speaker is now and once was.
You can read the full poem here.
Brushing out my daughter’s dark
the silver-haired servant behind her. Why is it
In the first lines of ’35/10,’ the speaker begins by describing how she was spending time brushing her daughter’s hair. She contrasts it with her own. This isn’t a hard juxtaposition to create, nor is it difficult to imagine. The difference is quite clear. Her hair is “gray gleaming,” and hers is “dark / silken.” She can see in her daughter the person she used to be while at the same time imagining the changes her daughter is eventually going to go through.
The speaker also envisions herself as lesser than her daughter, as a “servant behind her.” This is all part of the following image, her leaving as her daughter arrives.
just as we begin to go
its dry pitting, she opens like a small
pale flower on the tip of a cactus;
In the next lines, the speaker goes on to say that “we begin to go” when “they being to arrive.” This is a way of depicting how children come into their own as independent people at the same time as their parents start to depart, leaving their lives behind. The speaker’s wrinkles and folds are more prominent when the “fine bones of her / hips sharpen.” The daughter is ten, and the speaker is thirty-five, and each is going through a different series of changes.
She’s opening up like a flower “on the tip of a cactus” while the speaker is “dry pitting.” The speaker sees herself doing nothing else but aging, becoming less, while her daughter becomes more.
as my last chances to bear a child
are falling through my body, the duds among them,
the story of replacement.
In the final lines of ’35/10,’ the speaker notes that her possibilities of having children are falling and closing while her daughter is just getting to the age where this is about to be a possibility for her. She’s becoming a woman while this central tenant of womanhood (as some see it) is fading from the speaker’s life.
The poem ends with the speaker noting that this is an age-old story. It’s the “oldest we have on our planet.” It’s the “story of replacement.” Her daughter is taking over her role in the world.
Structure and Form
’35/10’ by Sharon Olds is an eighteen-line poem that is contained within a single stanza of text. The lines are written in free verse. This means that they do not follow a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. Olds alternates between using end-stopped lines and enjambed lines throughout the poem. This is discussed in more detail below. But, it creates a very particular flow, stopping the reader when they should take more time to consider the lines and allowing them to move quickly through them when that’s needed as well.
Throughout ’35/10,’ Olds makes use of several literary devices. These include but are not limited to:
- Juxtaposition: a contrasting comparison between two things. In this case, the speaker’s age and the daughter’s youth.
- Simile: occurs when the poet makes a comparison between two unlike things using “like” or “as.” For example, “As my skin shows / it’s dry pitting, she opens like a small / pale flower on the tip of a cactus.”
- Alliteration: can be seen when the poet repeats the same consonant sound at the beginning of multiple words. For example, “daughter’s dark” in line one and “gray gleaming” in line three.
- Enjambment: occurs when the poet cuts off a line before its natural stopping point. For example, the transition between lines one and two as well as lines five and six. These moments allow the reader to move quickly between lines.
It’s like that the speaker is Sharon Olds herself. She’s discussing, as she does in several poems, her relationship with her daughter. It’s unclear whether she had this exact experience or created it in order to share her feelings about replacement and change.
The purpose of this poem is to discuss how children come into their own as individuals and replace their parents with time. This isn’t something the speaker is mourning or feeling angry about. It’s something she accepts as fact.
The title is a comparison between the speaker’s age, 35, and her daughter’s age, 10. It’s yet another way to show the differences between the two.
The tone is contemplative and accepting. The speaker knows that her daughter is going to grow up and that eventually, she’s going to die. Her daughter will replace her as a grown woman and perhaps have a daughter of her own one day. These are things that are natural and unavoidable.
Readers who enjoyed ‘The One Girl at the Boys Party’ should consider reading other Sharon Olds poems. For example:
- ‘Her First Week’ – reveals both sides of motherhood and the many facets of feeling and emotions that come along with having a baby.
- ‘The Flurry’ – focuses on a couple planning how they will tell their children of their divorce. The poem explores the end of love, relationships coming to an end, and how that can impact people.
- ‘Sex Without Love’ – asks the reader to consider the implications of relationships based on sex rather than emotional love.