I Go Back To May (1937) – Sharon Olds: Into The Wild

by N. E. Skull

This poem is featured in a film that never fails to inspire the poet in me. For me, Into The Wild is that one film that I can’t help but tell everyone I meet that they simply must watch it. Soon. The film references many great writers, from Byron to Thoreau, and is itself a true story not to be forgotten too quickly.

In the film, the protagonist, Chris, reads this poem to his sister with no subtleties about the fact that it reminds him of their own parents. The poem is beautiful and honest. Unfortunately, the first line of the poem is missing from the video I have included above, but you will find the full poem below.

I see them standing at the formal gates of their colleges,
I see my father strolling out
under the ochre sandstone arch, the
red tiles glinting like bent
plates of blood behind his head, I
see my mother with a few light books at her hip
standing at the pillar made of tiny bricks with the
wrought-iron gate still open behind her, its
sword-tips black in the May air,
they are about to graduate, they are about to get married,
they are kids, they are dumb, all they know is they are
innocent, they would never hurt anybody.
I want to go up to them and say Stop,
don’t do it–she’s the wrong woman,
he’s the wrong man, you are going to do things
you cannot imagine you would ever do,
you are going to do bad things to children,
you are going to suffer in ways you never heard of,
you are going to want to die. I want to go
up to them there in the late May sunlight and say it,
her hungry pretty blank face turning to me,
her pitiful beautiful untouched body,
his arrogant handsome blind face turning to me,
his pitiful beautiful untouched body,
but I don’t do it. I want to live. I
take them up like the male and female
paper dolls and bang them together
at the hips like chips of flint as if to
strike sparks from them, I say
Do what you are going to do, and I will tell about it.

– Sharon Olds
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