It hangs deep in his robes, a delicate
clapper at the center of a bell.
It moves when he moves, a ghostly fish in a
halo of silver sweaweed, the hair
swaying in the dark and the heat — and at night
while his eyes sleep, it stands up
in praise of God.

Analysis, meaning and summary of Sharon Olds's poem The Pope’s Penis


  1. Adam Hall says:

    love love LOVE this poem!! i truly appreciate the overall comedic theme and love the wittiness of it all! plus the overall idea of the popes ole cocknballs is a funny part as well!

  2. Adam Hall says:

    personally i feel this poem tells me a lot about the popes ole cocknballs.. with that said it’s really beautiful.

  3. Anne Scheetz says:

    It’s “seaweed,”–to go with fish. Olds is known for her brilliant use of simile. I don’t see Olds in her poetry making fun of sexuality, or of anything else that I can think of. Which is not to say that she doesn’t have a sense of humor–she does. She honors sexuality–even the Pope’s. Anne Scheetz

    • The Pope and His Penis says:

      This is something I would’ve written in 7th Grade, then performed in front of the class for an easy laugh, risking guaranteed detention.

  4. Ben says:

    This is certainly not my favorite poem of all time. However, I will say that above any other poem I’ve ever read this one fascinates me the most. It’s strange, obviously, but it’s also oddly beautiful in its wording. I’m not sure who Sharon Olds is or what she’s doing at the moment but I hope she’s just as strange and beautiful a mind as this poem.

    • Judy Ahoe says:

      Thank you so very much for your eloquent and personal assessment of Ms. Olds. The effect her writing had on you at just your first reading! Yes she was all that. She was raised in Berkeley CA and attended Stanford and Columbia. She has 3 children and 5 grandchildren and a lifelong marriage. Won writing prizes since early 1980 culminating in the Pulitzer in 2013. She taught creative writing many years in New York. She participated in the famed Key West Literary Seminar. But there’s really too much to mention. She wrote The Pope’s Penis to explore a religious facade and because she did not want (anyone) to tell her what to do with her body. She passed away July 2020.

      • Paul McShane says:

        3 children? lifelong marriage? Wikipedia says Olds was married from 1969-1997 and birthed two children. Wiki mentions nothing about her death. If she is still living, she did not have a lifelong marriage. The Pope’s Penis is a fine poem . . . like so many of her poems.

  5. Jaime García Pulido says:

    love this poem. It is wierd, in fact. However, It concerns with religion. The Sky and the earth are far away, after all. He is a human being, just like me. My penis live its life, specially at night.

  6. Regular Joe says:

    I love it./
    It MOVES me/
    to no End.

  7. Kaiti says:

    I think the poem is controversial, not because of the shock value ascribed to writing about the Pope or his penis, but because Olds is using these two references to point out the hypocrisy of that type of power and supposed restraint-sexual or otherwise. Not to go into too much detail here, but I feel this poem has more to do with the hypocrisy of alleged authority in general, and the Catholic church in particular, rather than the fact that the Pope is “just a man”. Man can be just as malevolent as he can be altruistic.

  8. Ginger says:

    Come on cant you see that she’s just trying to getting you to understand that the pope is just like any other guy, he’s not different just because he’s the pope. Yeah the poem was funny and a little weird, but if we can poke fun at the president then we sure as hell can poke fun at the pope and in the mean time make a point. He’s not God he’s just like everyone else just a little lucky.

  9. jc says:

    i think the poem is more than just a piece for grabbing people’s attention..having a controversial subject doesn’t equate to attention is pretty disappointing that a lot of people value a poem for its shock value and limit themselves to interpret the poem literally..they never see beyond the words…the words in a poem shouldn’t be seen individually, rather, they should be seen as parts of the whole meaning, one picture, that the poem wants to say…

  10. Rachel says:

    i think this is a wierd poem because it talks about the pope’s penis, and that is just wierd.

  11. Andrew says:

    I believe it is a misspelling, because when I looked up other versions of the poem, none of them had the same spelling.

    In addition, I love this poem, because I believe that it pokes fun at one of the most puzzling aspects of the Pope’s personality, his sexuality. Why would Sharon Olds title a poem this way? She knew it would immediately invite controversy, and then after a while, everyone would be talking about it. Brilliant because after all, most males, including the Pope, have a penis and what’s so odd or controversial about that? Nothing, and yet, the poem attracts attention for its title.

    I also like the way the poem is written and the way it reads. Nice stuff I tell you.

  12. Suomynona says:

    Is sweaweed (line 4) a mis-spelling of seaweed or is there a hidden meaning?

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Do you have any comments, criticism, paraphrasis or analysis of this poem that you feel would assist other visitors in understanding the meaning or the theme of this poem by Sharon Olds better? If accepted, your analysis will be added to this page of American Poems. Together we can build a wealth of information, but it will take some discipline and determination.