Kelso High School English Department Norman MacCaig Visiting Hour Points of Interest • • • • • 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 • • • • 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.