Finalised Visiting Hour

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Kelso High School English
Department
Norman MacCaig
Visiting Hour
Points of Interest
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Situation
Structure
Narrative
Detailed analysis of poem
Themes
Visiting Hour
The hospital smell
combs my nostrils
as they go bobbing along
green and yellow corridors.
What seems a corpse
is trundled into a lift and vanishes
heavenward.
I will not feel, I will not
feel, until
I have to.
Nurses walk lightly, swiftly,
here and up and down and there,
their slender waists miraculously
carrying their burden
of so much pain, so
many deaths, their eyes
still clear after
so many farewells.
Ward 7. She lies
in a white cave of forgetfulness.
A withered hand
trembles on its stalk. Eyes move
behind eyelids too heavy
to raise. Into an arm wasted
of colour a glass fang is fixed,
not guzzling but giving.
And between her and me
distance shrinks till there is none left
but the distance of pain that neither she nor I
can cross.
She smiles a little at this
black figure in her white cave
who clumsily rises
in the round swimming waves of a bell
and dizzily goes off, growing fainter,
not smaller, leaving behind only
books that will not be read
and fruitless fruits.
.
from The Many Days: Selected Poems of Norman MacCaig (Polygon 2011)
Reproduced by permission of Polygon, an imprint of Birlinn Ltd
The Situation
• Visiting hour in a hospital. The poet is making his way
along hospital corridors to ward 7 where his seriously
ill relative lies.
• The reader accompanies the poet on his journey
along corridors and into the ward.
• The poet is unable to communicate with the patient,
but she seems to know that he is there.
• At the end of the visit he stumbles out in a very
emotional state.
• The patient smiles: suggests that when time comes
one is ready to die or is she trying to reassure him?
Structure
• Follows the NARRATIVE structure:
• Stanzas 1-3 introduction / setting / character
in setting /
• Stanza 4 – further development / detail
• Stanza 5 – Climax
• Stanza 6 - ending with a kind of Epilogue
Structure
• The overall structure contributes to the mood and
atmosphere. Content of verses helps us to place the poet and
accompany him on his journey.
• Stanzas 1-3 short, staccato. Create sense of place,
atmosphere and poet’s feelings
• Stanza One – entering the hospital. Uneasy in hospital setting
• Stanza Two – passing the lift. Morbid thoughts of death &
about what he will find.
• Stanza Three – refuses to allow himself to feel. He is trying to
save himself from the pain of feeling, but knows that he will
have to face it eventually.
Structure
• Stanza 4 – sense of bustle in a busy hospital.
Passing stairs and wards populated by nurses
going about their work.
• Stanza 5 – the ward. Main action / Climax.
Sense of hush in presence of dying woman.
• Stanza 6 – back in corridor. Bell ringing. Postaction verse. Opening of floodgates of poet’s
emotions in face of his inevitable loss.
Structure / Narrative
• The structure of the poem also allows us to
follow the build-up and gradual release of the
poet’s feelings.
• First person – poet expresses his feelings from
the inside. An observer would have been
unable to detect these feelings. Feelings
therefore come across as more genuine.
• In Stanza 6 when he has lost control of his
feelings he writes in THIRD PERSON.
Narrative
• The STREAM OF CONSCIOUSNESS – why
effective:
1. Style lends immediacy and gains
our sympathy.
2. Helps us to put ourselves in the poet’s
position.
3. Helps us to identify with his feelings as we arrive
with him, walk the corridors and then leave
with him. It increases the poem’s emotional
impact.
Analysis – Stanza One
• Lines 1-4
• Scene is set by reference to poet’s senses
Smell – ‘’The hospital smell /
combs my nostrils”
• Mood and atmosphere is established through
LEXICAL CHOICE line 2 ‘ combs my nostrils’
Idea that smell is so pungent and unpleasant to him
that it reaches the roots of the hair in his nostrils.
Analysis – Stanza One
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Line 4 “ green and yellow corridors”
Again creates mood & atmosphere.
IMAGERY – colours of vomit ; pus.
Suggests unpleasantness and his discomfort
and unease in the hospital.
• He finds the visit distressing.
Stanza One - analysis
• Line 3 - “as they go bobbing along”
• SYNECDOCHE - A figure of speech in which a part is
used to refer to the whole.
• His whole body is moving along the corridor, not just
his nostrils.
• Use of synecdoche focuses attention on the nostrils
in order to emphasise the idea of the hospital smell
being so overpowering that all other impressions are
blanked out, thus intensifying his unease in the
situation.
Stanza Two - Analysis
• Lines 5-7 contributes to mood and
atmosphere.
• Line 5 word choice – “What seems a
corpse” – he immediately assumes that it is a
dead body – “vanishes heavenward”.
• The patient is being taken up in the lift, but
the poet thinks it is on its last journey.
• Reflects his thoughts about his sick relative –
has he come too late?
Stanza Two - Analysis
• Use of ENJAMBMENT throughout this stanza.
• Why effective?
• Emphasises last word on line. Focus on 5/6/7
is on “corpse” and “vanishes”
• This is in line with his thoughts on death and
its finality.
Stanza Two - Analysis
• Line 7 “trundled”
• LEXICAL CHOICE – implies lack of care by the
porter. Does it suggest that the poet thinks
there is no point in taking care as the person is
dead.
Stanza Three - Analysis
• Lines 8 – 9 “I will not feel, I will not / feel”
• Repetition – poet appears to be talking to
himself. Repetition intensifies the control he is
trying to impose on himself. He is denying his
feelings because they are too painful.
• Atmosphere of tension is heightened in this
stanza through staccato rhythm of short verse,
its monosyllabic words and the enjambment
of lines 8-10.
Stanza Three - Analysis
• The remainder of the stanza “until / I have to”
uses word choice and enjambment to show
the poet making a conscious effort to be
detached. He knows that he will have to face
up to the situation eventually, but not yet.
Stanza Four - Analysis
• Lines 11-18
• Creates mood and atmosphere by recording
details of the nurses –
• how they walk “lightly, swiftly”
appearance
“slender waists”
expression
“eyes…..clear”
Stanza Four - Analysis
• Line 12 – “here and up and down and there”
• SYNTAX – grammatical arrangement of words
within their sentence / line.
• Unusual word order as we would expect ‘here
and there’. Suggests that the nurses are
everywhere, both upstairs and downstairs, at
once.
• Repetition of “and” emphasises the distance
the nurses cover. Gives impression of speed.
Stanza Four - Analysis
• Contrast between reaction of poet and
reaction of nurses.
• Comment on “slender waists” suggests young
women.
• Word choice “miraculously carrying their
burden” shows that he marvels at the way
they cope compared with the struggle he, a
mature man, has with his feelings.
Stanza Four - Analysis
• Contrast continues:
• Word choice / connotations of “burden”
conveys the extent of his anguish.
• Word choice “Farewells” anticipates the last
unbearable goodbye to his dying relative.
• The nurses, however, seem to be able to deal
with so many deaths. Word choice “their eyes
still clear”.
Stanza Four - Analysis
• Repetition of “ so much pain, so / many
deaths…so many farewells” emphasises the
extent of the burden that the nurses carry.
• The enjambment of the second “so” further
strengthens the contrast between the
response of the nurses and himself to the
situation.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Line 19 Caesura – a break or pause in a line of
poetry often marked by punctuation.
• “Ward 7”. Pause is unexpected. He has
arrived outside the ward and comes to an
abrupt halt. He has to stop, take a deep breath
and pull himself together.
• Caesura signifies that he is steeling himself for
the ordeal ahead.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• “Ward 7” – the use of the number means that
it stands out from the surrounding words. This
is a visual reminder to us all of exactly where
the poet is.
• We can clearly see how it would appear on
the actual door. We can therefore share what
he sees and share his dread as he reads it.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Lines 19 -20
• “She lies / in a cave of white forgetfulness” provides an IMAGE of the bed being screened
off by a white curtain. It is “ a cave of
forgetfulness” because she is barely
conscious.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Metaphor – “cave of white forgetfulness” –
• Appropriate metaphor as patient is cut off
from rest of ward as though she were in a cave
on a side of a cliff.
• Because she is in a coma, she cannot
communicate with the poet, nor he with her.
• Image of “White” adds to feelings of
inaccessibility as if she is seen through
snowstorm.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Connotations of other cultures in the past
where old people, when they became a
burden, were left in caves on hillsides to die.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Lines 21 – 22
• “A withered hand / trembles on its stalk” – imagery /
connotations.
• “withered” – appropriate to dying woman.
• “stalk” – suggests thinness / weakness of her arm. The flower
image gives sense of her fragility and her beauty in the eyes of
the poet, who looks on her with love.
• Her trembling hand and eyes moving behind eyelids are her
fluttering, uncontrolled attempts to reach him.
• She cannot reach him, so he is alone with his pain.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Lines 24-26
• “..Into an arm wasted / of colour a glass fang is
fixed,/ not guzzling but giving” - IMAGERY
• The vampire image intensified by the use of
alliteration conveys his disgust at the sight of the drip
feeding blood into her veins.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• He sees the needle as a fang biting into her
arm. Suggests intrusion. Both “giving” and
“arm wasted” suggest blood is being taken
out rather than being put in.
• This conveys his pity for the suffering of the
patient, his distress and the feeling that the
whole process is intrusive and pointless.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• Lines 27-30
• “And between her and me / distance… /
..that neither she nor I / can cross” –
imagery.
• He bends to kiss her, but she does not
respond. She is alone with her pain which has
formed an invisible barrier between them; he
cannot reach her. Image conveys his feelings
of desolation and hopelessness at this inability
to reach her.
Stanza Five - Analysis
• His isolation is emphasised by use of
ENJAMBMENT - “I”
• The fact that this is poised at the end of the
longest line, intensifies his isolation and the
lack of communication between them.
• The imagery in this verse monitors the gradual
opening of the floodgates to the feelings that
he was trying so hard to control earlier.
Stanza Six - Analysis
• Lines 31-38
• Line 34 – “clumsily rises / in the round
swimming waves of a bell” - metaphor. When
the bell rings at the end of visiting hour, he
leaves in a highly emotional state. He escapes
from his distress like a drowning man trying to
reach dry land.
Stanza Six - Analysis
• “Round” and “Swimming” - SYNAESTHESIA – the
mixing of sensations, an appeal to more than one
sense.
• Both “round” and “swimming” are visual images
unusually here describing a sound. “round” signifies
the intensity of the effect that the ringing bell has on
him; “swimming” suggests his eyes are filled with
tears, his head swimming with the emotion of the
experience. Confirmed lexical choice “dizzily”.
• His self-control has collapsed as he stumbles
“clumsily” out of the ward.
Stanza Six - Analysis
• Line 35 – “growing fainter” – pun – poet
would grow fainter with distance from the
patient; he is so upset he feels faint.
• Line 37 “books that will not be read” –
paradox – apparently self- contradictory
statement - signifies that the patient is beyond
his reach. He has brought books, but she is
past reading.
Stanza Six - Analysis
• Line 38 – “fruitless fruits” – oxymoron – figure
of speech in which two words with opposite
meanings are brought together to form a
paradoxical statement – the patient is now
beyond eating.
• Both paradox and oxymoron together – signify
he has gone through motions of visiting, but
knows his presence has made no difference to
the final outcome.
• Alliteration of “fruitless fruits” emphasises
futility of the situation.
Theme : Death and Dying
• Facing death from the point of view of the
dying person:
Isolation – death is something we must
do alone, even if family is
present / failed attempts at
communication – eyes
moving behind closed
eyelids, fluttering hands
Theme : Death and Dying
• Facing death from the point of view of the
surviving relative:
1. Worrying about condition of relative
before he gets there – still alive or
too late?
2. Denies situation in an attempt to
control feelings for sake of sick
person as well as his own.
Theme : Death and Dying
• Facing death from the point of view of the
surviving relative:
3. Feelings of inadequacy in dealing
with the situation.
4. Upset at seeing sick person
attached to drips, machines etc.
5. Impossibility of making contact with
patient; her smile is no comfort to
him.
Theme : Death and Dying
• Facing death from the point of view of the
surviving relative:
6. Finds situation so abhorrent that he
rises as soon as the bell rings
for the end of visiting.
Theme : Death and Dying
• Taking both points together, he seems to
suggest that death is more of an ordeal for
those left behind than it is for the dying
person.
• Reminder that we are not given the dying
person’s point of view.
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