The Flurry

Sharon Olds


Sharon Olds

Sharon Olds is a contemporary American poet born in 1942.

She has won numerous literary awards, including the Pulitzer Prize.

The Flurry by Sharon Olds explores a couple discussing how they will tell their children about their divorce. Olds is still in love with her husband, but he has fallen out of love with her. She promises to try and stop loving him, but she doesn’t think she will be able to. Her sadness blurs into anger, her tears transforming into knives. This anger is something she can hold on to, something that gives her comfort.

The Flurry by Sharon Olds


Summary of The Flurry

The Flurry’ by Sharon Olds 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.

Olds moves through many emotions in the poem, beginning with worry and ending with anger. The poem is melancholic, Olds not quite knowing how to deal with the conversation. The poet’s partner is pragmatic, planning their future conversation with careful certainty. The final section of the poem focuses on Olds’ emotions, her sadness transforming into anger. This anger is the only thing Olds has left now, focusing on that to try and drown out the pain of falling out of love. She has to adapt to the situation as it is, surprised by things that have changed between them.

You can read the full poem here.


Form and Structure

Sharon Olds writes The Flurry as one single stanza. The single stanza has a total of 29 lines. Writing in free verse, Olds allows her emotions to flow freely on the page. The lack of structure reflects the racing thoughts of the poet, her mind dissecting the conversation as it happens. The flowing stanza is emblematic of the stream of consciousness that Olds writes, displaying her intimate opinions and emotions.


Themes in The Flurry

The central theme that Olds explores in The Flurry is separation. Both in terms of her marriage, and physically in the poem, Olds focuses on distance. Her partner discusses how they will tell their children of their divorce. Yet, even in the scene, they are apart, one on the sofa and one on the floor. Both emotionally and physically, The Flurry is a poem of distance and separation.

Another theme that Olds explores in the poem is love. Although the partner has fallen out of love with the poet, she cannot do the same so quickly. Olds knows that she ‘will love him/ all my life’, a calm certainty. Love is being explored in two directions in the poem. A certain, indestructible love felt by Olds, and a faded love felt by her partner. This could shed insight into how different individuals in a relationship can have very opposed outlooks. Love is not equal for everyone.


Literary Techniques

One technique that Olds uses frequently within The Flurry is caesura. Many moments in the poem are emphasized by the caesura. This technique creates a slight metrical pause, shifting focus to this moment. Following important phrases, such as ‘all my life’, Olds places a caesura. This disruption suggests that Olds wants to draw attention to the preceding and following phrases. This is used throughout the poem, Olds controlling the speed of the meter and metrical emphasis through the use of caesura.

Another technique that Olds uses in The Flurry is the manipulation of pronoun. At the beginning of the poem, Olds focuses on ‘we’, showing the unity of the couple. Yet, the reader quickly discovers that this ‘we’ is only superficial. The couple has split, only being unified in their planning of telling their children. Olds then proceed to use ‘I’ and ‘he’, showing the couple as down individuals. Their separation is held in this pronoun segregation, a sense of distance being implied between them. Their ‘we’ has faded into ‘I’ and ‘he’.


The Flurry Analysis

Lines 1-7

When we talk about when to tell the kids,
rich as a night sea with jellies,

The poem begins by repeating ‘When’ twice on the first line. The use of this word conveys a sense of certainty, Olds suggesting this is not an ‘if’ but a ‘when’. In using repetition, Olds further emphasizes this fact, a depressing certainty settling over the poem. Olds manipulates the syntax of the line to place ‘kids’ as the final word. In doing this, ‘kids’ becomes a focal point of the line, the metrical emphasis falling upon it. This is furthered by the end stop after ‘kids’, all culminating in a moment of bold emphasis. It seems that for Olds and her partner, they both want to put the ‘kids’ first, their importance is emphasized.

Yet, the use of ‘we’ suggests there is still a sense of unity between the couple. Both ‘we talk’ and ‘we are’ suggest a togetherness, the couple being ‘concentrated’ on their communal effort. It is only when these opening lines are placed in a context that it becomes apparent that they are not unified in love, but rather in practicality. They are ‘so concentrated’ on figuring out what to tell their kids, love not being a part of the picture.

The double hyphen caesura around ‘taking my wrist’ is the only point of contact within the poem. This physical unity is shocking to Olds, the caesuras placing metrical emphasis on this moment. It could also be seen as a moment of change within the poem. Following this final contact, ‘we’ is no longer used, falling away to ‘I’ and ‘he’.


Lines 8-17

I am sitting on the floor. I look up at him,


to catch my cold.” I should not have told him that,

The physical difference between the two people is made clear in line 8. Olds is ‘sitting on the floor’, grounded while he takes the ‘couch’. The poet is ‘look[ing] up at her partner. The spatial levels between them create a sense of dominance, Olds following in her partner’s desire to separate. He physically dominates the scene, even in the early moments of ‘holding’ her wrists. Their relationship is not what it once was, Olds imaging it as a ‘chamber’ of ‘dust I carry around’. The use of ‘dust’ suggests a stagnation, their relationship having faded into dilapidation.

Although their relationship has faded away, Olds still finds a sense of connection with her lover. She takes comfort in the fact that ‘he is drinking/ a wine grown where I was born’. As if the activity of drinking and the location from which the drink came from provides a bridge of connection. This is dubious at best, with Olds revealing her desire for something that isn’t there anymore.


Lines 18-29

I tell him I will try to fall out of
to it, it is my hope.

Olds uses speech throughout the poem, yet does not include the moment that ‘I tell him I will try to fall out of /love with him’. It seems almost like self-censoring, with Olds not wanting to remember this moment. Trivial parts of the conversation, ‘Don’t catch my cold’ are kept, the decision to stop loving is not. This is a depressing moment for Olds, her love being replied as ‘loves me as the mother of our children’. They are no longer in love, her partner now just appreciating her role in their children’s lives.

Her tears are personified, threatening to make ‘burning leaps’ out of her eyes. The sense of ‘burning’ conveys the pain Olds feels, not having come to terms with their breakup. She images these tears like ‘knives’ coming down upon them. These knives ‘outline’ a ‘heart’, plunging into her body. This self-mutilation is emblematic of the emotional pain she feels from the breakup. Olds is not okay, trying to ‘nod’ along to the conversation. The final line is one of ‘hope’, Olds using the anger she feels to ground herself.


Similar Poetry

The sense of in-betweenness that Olds explores in The Flurry is echoed by Owen Sheers. Particularly in the poem Intermission, Sheers creates a moment of being between two stages of life. For Olds, this sense of telling the children will be the final nail in the coffin of their relationship. Sheers uses a physical intermission in the life of a power cut to reflect a similar tone.

Reginald Gibbons’ Hour also explores breaking up. In their poem, Gibbons melancholically reflects over a past relationship. The darkness of the scene directly contrasts with the vivacity of The Flurry, both share central unrest.

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Jack Limebear Poetry Expert
Jack is undertaking a degree in World Literature and joined the Poem Analysis team in 2019. Poetry is the intersection of his greatest passions, languages and literature, with his focus on translation bridging the gap.

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