Elizabeth Bishop was a woman of keen observations. Being a poet of time and place she connected her readers with the details of the physical world. She didn’t produce prolific work rather believed in quality over quantity. Her days in Vassar had a profound impact on her literary career. She was inspired by her friends and seniors to evolve her interest in literature. Since she was a traveler, she never failed to mention geographical relevance in her works.
The poem is set in during the World War 1. The speaker is a seven-year-old, who narrates her observations while she is waiting for her aunt at the dentist. The readers barely accept that such insight can be retold by a child. Bishop is seen relating the smallest things around her and finding the deepest meaning she can conclude. Though a precise description of the physical world is presented yet the symbolism is quite unnatural. Not to forget, the poet lives with her grandparents in Massachusetts for her schooling and prepping.
In the Waiting Room Summary by Elizabeth Bishop
The poetess narrates her day on a cold winter afternoon when she is accompanying her aunt to a dentist. She is seen in a waiting room occupied with several other patients who were mostly “grown-ups.” Due to the extreme weather, they are seen sitting with “overcoats” on. There are lamps and magazines in the waiting room to keep themselves occupied. In the first few lines, before she takes the readers into the “National Geographic” magazine, she goes on to describe the scene around her.
Later in the poem, she stresses that she is a seven-year-old still could read, this describes her interest in literary content and her awareness of the surroundings. She is well informed for a child. She continues to narrate the details while carefully studying the photographs. She came across a volcano, in its full glory, producing ashes. Such kind of a scene is found to be intriguing to her. She also mentions two famous couple travelers of the 20th century, the Johnsons, who were seen in their typical costumes enhancing their adventures in East Asia. There is one more picture of a dead man brutally killed and seen hanging on the pole. The caption “Long Pig” gave a severe description of the killings in World War 1, the poetess is narrating oddities of those days with quite a naturality. The poetess is well-read but reacts vaguely to whatever she sees in the magazines. She is an immature child who is unknown to culture and events taking place in the other parts of the world. She is taken aback when she sees “black, naked women.” She disregards the pictures as “horrifying” stating she hasn’t come across something like that. It is a new sight for her to those “women with necks wound round and round with wire.” She was determined not to stop reading about them even though she didn’t like what she saw.
Later, she hears her aunt grovel with pain, and the poetess couldn’t understand her for being so timid and foolish. The poetess is brave enough against pain and her aunt’s cry doesn’t scare her at all, rather she despise her aunt for being so kiddish about her treatment. The poetess just in the next line is seen contemplating that she is somewhere related to her aunt as if she is her. The pain is her’s and everyone around. She felt everyone was falling because of the same pain. She says while everyone here is waiting, reading, they are unable to realize that fall of pain which is similar to us all. We are all inevitably falling for it. The poet is found comparing death with falling. The fall is surely not a blissful state rather it describes a mere gloomy sad and unhappy fall.
She gives herself hope by saying she would be seven years old in next three days. The hope of birth against falling or death keeps her at ease. The poetess knows the fall will take her to a “blue-black space.” The next few lines form the essence of the poem, the speaker is afraid to look at the world because she is similar to them. She is one of them and their destinies are one and the same- The fall. The child is an overthinker. She says that there have been enough people like her, and all relatable, all accustomed to the same environment and all will die the same death. She is beginning to question the course of her life. Where it is going and why is it so.
She is sure there is a meaning of relation she shares wherever she goes and whatever she sees. She is carried away by her thoughts and claims that every little detail on the magazine, or in the waiting room, or the cry of her aunt’s pain is all planned to be īn practice in this moment because there beholds an unknown relation with her. Forming a cycle of life and death. The exactness of situations amazes her profoundly. the poetess mind is wavering in the corners of the outside world. She thinks and rethinks about herself sliding away in a wave of death, that the physical world is part of an inevitable rush that will engulf them in no time. She feels herself to be one and the same with others.
She comes back to reality and realizes no change has caused. The day was still and dark amid the war, there she rechecks the date to keep herself intact.
STYLE: The poem is written in free verse, with no rhyming scheme. The poem follows a narration completed in five stanzas, the first two stanzas are quite big but as the poem progresses the length shortens. The poem seems to lose itself in the big questions asked by the poetess. The poem ends in a bizarre state of mind.
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Conclusion:The poem is an over exaggeration of what possibly could never occur. The poetess calls herself a seven-year-old, with the thoughts of an overthinker. She is waiting for her aunt, she keeps herself busy reading a magazine, mostly it’s a common sight but her thoughts are dull and suffocating. She seems to add on her own misery thinking the same thoughts.