For a full understanding of the following review, read the poem “True Love” by Sharon Olds

In the poem “True Love” by Sharon Olds, two lovers are repeatedly shown as being tied to one another. The poem takes place in the moments after the couple finished making love, and at first glance the poem seems to praise this precious moment. However, Olds often includes certain word choices that may lead the reader to believe that she doesn’t view two people being bound to one another in a positive light. At first it seems as though being bound to her husband is a positive thing. However, upon a closer look I wondered whether Olds thinks that being bound to another person is positive at all? In fact, the woman in the poem may believe that she is trapped in marriage by the things that bind her to her husband. Olds’ use of the word bound in her poem “True Love” has a negative connotation, which suggests that all is not well between the lovers in the poem. The first half of the poem describes the couple in the moments after their love making as being:

                                                      Bound to each other
like mountaineers coming down from a mountain

In the line immediately after, the speaker says again “bound with the tie of the delivery room” (line 6). The repetition of the word bound and the image associated with it tells the reader that the relationship is both serious and committed. By putting emphasis on the ways that the lovers are tied to one another, it is almost as if Olds is suggesting that these things constitute the relationship’s foundation. In lines ten and eleven the speaker says again;

we are bound to each other
with huge invisible threads,

All of these things can be interpreted as being a positive aspect of a relationship. However, many of the other word choices in this piece can be interpreted with a negative connotation. With that understanding, a second look at the use of the word bound might make the reader think that this is a negative thing and that the meaning of the word bound in this poem is similar to being trapped.

In the first line, the speaker tells the reader that the two people in the poem have just “made love”. For this reason, we know that these two people are in fact a couple, for if the relationship were less serious, Olds may have chosen to use the word sex instead. The speaker also tells us in the first few lines that they look at each other in “complete friendship” (line 3). Friendship is something that is vital to all relationships, but it is curious that the speaker would choose the term to describe the relationship of her and her lover in the moments after making love. One might expect that after something so intimate, the speaker might describe their feelings toward each other in a more intimate way, using terms like “passion” or “completely in love”. Perhaps friendship is another way in which the lovers are bound, by their past. After the line about friendship the speaker says something else that might lead the reader to believe that things are not well between the lovers. The speaker says;

                     we know so fully
what the other has been doing.

It’s possible that this is directed toward their love making and some sort of inside exchange between the two. However, it is more likely that the intention of this line was to highlight some external factors in the marriage. Because of the other points in this poem that indicate negative feelings, the reader might assume that one of the lovers has been doing something that the other disapproves of. It is as if both the lovers in this poem are trying to tip-toe around the fact that the relationship is reaching the end of its lifespan. Instead of recognizing and accepting it, they are simply moving through the motions of love and marriage. By first saying that the lovers look at each other in friendship and then following up with the short line about knowing what the other has been doing, it creates the impression that things are not harmonic in their relationship, but that they continue to endure it because of the many things that keep them bound to one another.

When the speaker talks about their sexes being “muted, exhausted and crushed” in line twelve, it has a double meaning. One interpretation is that literally, they’ve just had sex, and these feelings are the physical result of their love making. However, the speaker includes this line after describing the invisible threads that tie them together, so she is probably suggesting that being bound together is like a weight on the couple that causes them to feel muted, exhausted and crushed. The marriage continues to be construed in a negative fashion in lines thirteen and fourteen, when the speaker says;

                                     … -surely this
is the most blessed time of my life.

At first this line seems obviously positive. However, when you look at the line in its context, the reader can notice that this line is crammed in between a line about the couple’s love making and a line about their children. When you read more closely, something about this line seems contradictory. The speaker includes the word “surely” at the beginning of the line. With the addition of this one word, the entire tone of the statement changes. By saying “surely” it seems as though the woman in the poem is trying to convince herself that this is the best that her life will be, that it is the most blessed moment. If things were completely positive between the lovers, and the speaker was content with being bound, she would have no need to convince herself of it.

Again a negative image is conjured in the last line of the poem when the speaker says “I cannot see beyond it, I cannot see beyond it” (line 26). In the lines leading up to this, the woman describes the scenery outside, using words like cold and silent, both of which create a withdrawn and distant feeling to the end the poem with. One may think that quite literally, the woman cannot see beyond the wall of snow. It also makes sense to think that the woman may have been referring to the marriage itself. When she speaks about the scenery outside at the end of the poem, perhaps it is because she cannot see beyond the relationship into the outside world. She feels like she will miss out on many opportunities because of the things that have her bound and she simply cannot see beyond this.

Olds’ word choices throughout this poem at once create a sense of true married love and give insight to things not seen from the outside of a relationship. With the passive aggressive style of the word choice in the poem, especially the contradictory use of the word bound, it is easy to believe that Olds was really expressing the losses experienced in a relationship that has too many ties to another person. The woman in the poem wants to know what is out there for her, but is unable to see it because of the things that tie her to her husband and bind her to the relationship.