In the historical remembrance poem, Death of Marilyn Monroe, by Sharon Olds is the recounting of the day Marilyn Monroe was pronounced dead and the reactions of the ambulance men who were forced to carry her cold body away forever. Although no initial evident rhyme scheme is found in the poem, there is significance and symbolism flowing through each line.
The opening is the most descriptive and realistic section of the entire poem. It describes Marilyn as completely lifeless, and cold. Not the warm and sweet Monroe that the public and media know but a woman that lies there helplessly. “…tried to close the mouth, closed the eyes, tied the arms to the sides, moved a caught strand of hair, as if it mattered,” this quote sets the melancholy and hopeless tone for the rest of the poem.
Olds introduces the ambulance men into the poem by continuing to describe the horrifying scene of the dead Marilyn Monroe. The detail that is provided allows the reader to truly understand the scars and issues the men will experience later down the road because of this single incident. It describes Monroe’s body as being “heavy as iron” and the line, “the shape of her breasts, flattened by gravity” would be symbolic of the body being found face down, on her stomach.
The next line of the poem is my favorite because it reminds me of a scene in a movie. Imagine a crime scene taking place and as they are lifting the body onto the stretcher the screen suddenly, in the same frame, the screen blinks to flashbacks of this person’s life. It goes back and forth between the glorious, lively past and the terrifying, truthful present. The line reads like this, “under the sheet carried her (ambulance men), as if it were she, down the steps.” This line symbolizes Marilyn Monroe’s grace, beauty, and liveliness during her lifetime. I can imagine the men feeling very vulnerable and fragile as they carry the dead body of America’s sex symbol and showgirl. The caution they must carry the body with and the elegance they must possess within themselves as they descend the stairs, as if Marilyn was walking right beside them, holding her own.
The best part about the poem is the depiction of the aftermath the ambulance men experienced following the death of the lovely Monroe. If it weren’t for the title of the poem, the reader may have never known that the poem was referring to Marilyn Monroe’s death. Although it does give a brief of the death scene, the poems main focus is on the men not the woman. The woman is dead and lifeless in a literal sense but the men have the life sucked out of them figuratively. The next line begins with “these men were never the same” and then elaborates on each man’s struggle following the death scene. It is their job to recover and move on with their lives, so why couldn’t they?
“One did not like his work, his wife looked different, his kids. Even death seemed different to him – a place where she would be waiting…” Let’s focus in on the idea of death and how it can possible seem different to this particular ambulance man. Oxford English Dictionary first defines death as “the act or fact of dying; the end of life.” Next the dictionary defines death as “the final cessation of the vital functions of an animal, plant, or individual.” Now how could a definition that seems so simple be so hard to grasp? How could “the end of life” even begin to be viewed as differently than what it is? Let’s put it in today’s terms for analysis’s sake. Let’s take September 11th for example: if you lived in New York and heard of this terrible tragedy, then you walked outside of your apartment and saw the twin towers falling, would that not have an effect on you? Or maybe you were a firefighter on call that day, or a radio tower operator, would your life not be changed? It is the significance of the event that changes a person’s perspective, it is the real life experience that changes their attitude, and it is the “life flashing before your eyes” experience that makes you take a step back and look at life situations differently. These men had no idea what they were about to see, but the toll it took on them was an emotion they would never forget, an emotion evoked from the reader that makes this poem memorable.
The most effective part of the poem would be the elaboration provided throughout. The author makes sure that the reader fully grasps the horrific crime scene so that as the poem continues on, the reader will be emotionally drawn in. Olds does a great job at tapping into the reader’s pathos and making sure that it sets the mood for the entire poem.
The second thing that I find interesting about this poem is the intense focus on the ambulance men that have to remove the body. Yes, it is sad that Monroe has passed on but it is worse that these men have to live with the image for the rest of their life. The author does a nice job at setting the scene but uses that to her advantage as the poem comes to a close.
Next is the fact that the poem is a free verse poem. After reading it over and over and trying to analyze it to the best of my ability, I cannot find any particular rhyme scheme that happens during the poem. Olds does a fantastic job of telling a story that it is easy to forget that it is supposed to be a poem. Although the poem can be described as pattern-like, containing five grammatical sentences arranged into twenty-six lines and divided into four verse paragraphs.
As a reader, we must keep in mind that without the title, “Death of Marilyn Monroe,” we would not have a clue which celebrity Olds was referring to unless we knew exactly how Monroe died. Without the title of the poem present, there would be no apparent sense of time and no significant importance to the person who died that tragic day. For all we know, it could have been a husband who just lost their wife who he cared about very much and to handle his anger he decides to sit down and write a poem that just so happens to get published. The only line that implies that it is someone of real importance is “carried her, as if it were she, down the steps” which could signify an important historical figure or celebrity. So why does the author not go into great detail? In my opinion, it is to provide a greater sense of prominence and meaning behind each line. It is considered a historic remembrance poem not only because it describes the death of the great Marilyn Monroe, but because it urges the reader to research and desire to find out more about what is truly behind each line.
Lastly, the focus is shifted to the last four lines, “In the doorway to a room of sleep, listening to a woman breathing, just an ordinary woman breathing.” There is great significance to these concluding lines of the poem, sure it is referring to the final ambulance man’s aftermath, but there is an underlying message and placement of the word “breathing.” In the introduction, the poem began with death yet concludes with a form of life. This minor detail puts emphasis on the beauty of living and the contrast between Marilyn Monroe’s dead body and this woman’s lively one. This proves that it does not matter whether you are the most famous person in the world, or just an ordinary individual that gets up and goes to work each day with no one even knowing your name, life comes to an end. By the end of the poem, we can respect the different stages of emotions the men experienced and can appreciate the gift of life that much more. The sounds of a breath must sound different to that particular ambulance man, the luxuries of life must look different, and he has to accept that life may not look the same for a long time.
Overall, the poem was very easy to understand and connect with. The one issue that I have noticed in poetry, especially in free verse, is the lack of grammatical guideline. I feel like a lot of poems like this have to be read over and over again before you can begin to analyze them because common comma placement fails to exist. Somehow it does not qualify as a story that can simply be written out in a paragraph because the author writes the poem with the intention of a specific rhyme scheme, even if the reader cannot initially understand. On the surface, this poem is nothing more than a recounting of events that happened to three random men after another famous person dies. But looking within, the author’s purpose is slowly unraveled as we read each line.
Home : Oxford English Dictionary. Oxford University Press Copyright © 2011Oxford University Press. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://www.oed.com/view/Entry/47766?rskey=We5W7D>.
Olds, Sharon. ""Death of Marilyn Monroe"" Redirect to Teaching Writing with Computers. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://cai.ucdavis.edu/gender/oldspoem.html>.
"The Death of Marilyn Monroe Summary - Sharon Olds - Masterplots II: Poetry, Revised Edition." ENotes - Literature Study Guides, Lesson Plans, and More. Web. 28 Nov. 2011. <http://www.enotes.com/death-marilyn-monroe-salem/death-marilyn-monroe>.