Professor Donato Martinez
08 April 2015
Marital Struggles Adrienne Rich’s poem, “Novella,” is about a conflict between a husband and wife. It is a routine for them, after a fight, one going out, the other staying home, and later they get back to each other. Written by Sharon Olds, “I Go Back to May 1937” tells a story of a broken relationship between a mother and a father from a child’s preexistent vantage point. Both poems are about conflicts in a family, between a husband and wife, possibly due to lack of love and understanding. Rich tells the story, an everyday fight, with a simplicity in language but hidden within are contradiction as well as a metaphor, whereas Olds uses imagistic language, metaphors and anaphora to describe her parents, how they are unsuitable for each other. In “Novella,” Rich approaches directly with simple word choices, focusing on a marital argument to illustrate the problem in a marriage. The poem begins: Two people in a room, speaking harshly. One gets up, goes out to walk. (That is the man.) The other goes into the next room and washes the dishes, cracking one. (That is the woman.) (1-6).
In these first lines, one can see that Rich only uses simple words to establish a situation of a troubled marriage. She shows that the husband and wife take out their aggressions towards one another on the house – the husband leaves the house and the wife breaks a dish. Although the parallel views of husband and wife given at the beginning of the poem seem to say that they are both at fault for the marriage’s problem, Rich portrays the woman as much more of a victim when she says later in the poem: “She has no blood left in her heart.”(9), as though the husband Hoang 2 is a vampire who has victimized his wife. Contradiction is another eminent element in “Novella”, appeared in line 10, 12 and 13.
After the fight, “The man comes back to a dark house” (10), revealing the husband’s view about his own house. The house is described as a random house with the use of article “a” and as an dark abandoned house despite the fact that his wife and children are all inside. To the man, the house is no longer his home that he feels comfortable to return. In front of the house, the husband realizes that “He has forgotten his key / He rings at his own door” (12-13). The fact that the husband forgets the key shows that he probably does not want to return with his family. As a result, he now has to “rings at his own door” like a stranger who does not belong to the family. Even though the husband returns home in the last lines of the poem, Rich asserts that the husband and wife are ultimately separate, using the stars as a metaphor: Outside, separate as minds the stars too come alight. (17-18).
The stars, as a metaphor, represent the husband and wife after the fight. Outside, like their minds separated to each other, the stars, scattered in the sky, begins to blink one by one. Inside, like the star, the husband and wife live under the same “sky” but do not really understand each other. In “I Go Back to May 1937,” one can easily see how Old’s poetic style contrasts with
Rich’s prosaic, less imagery one. Throughout most of the first half of Old’s poem, she is intensely descriptive, which also adds to the tone of her poem. “I see my father strolling out under the ochre sandstone arch, the red tiles glinting like bent plates of blood behind his head”
(line 2-5). She sees her father as a confident young man, as sturdy and stubborn as the stone arch he is walking under. On the other hand, she sees her mother with “a few light books at her hip” and “standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks”. This visual description of her mother makes her seem like an easygoing woman who would carry lightweight books around her. It also makes her look as fine, fragile and delicate as the fine. However, words like “bent” and “blood” hold