Thursday, March 14, 2013

in the waiting room by Elizabeth Bishop

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Miranda Linden

English 55

Paper # 1


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In the Waiting Room

The journey to becoming a grown adult can often be surprising and hard to handle. When we are young the venture is intimidating and seems to never get any easier throughout its course. Our hardest feats differ from person to person. And even after the lessons of life are learned, we often have to look back at the lesson’s inception to reinstall its values during the course of our lifetime. This is what happens in Elizabeth Bishop’s poem, In the Waiting Room. In this poem we see that Elizabeth’s struggles came with identification and placing herself in the world as a woman. She shows us, through this writing, the struggle she has to identify herself with the world and its population. With a fine line between reality and imagination, and a structure catering to her story, Bishop has created a poem that gives us not only a strong image, but also a great sense of emotion.

This poem tells the story of Bishop, as a seven-year old, realizing her place in life. She does not only become aware that she is part of a much larger population, but also that she is a woman. Her epiphany of self is not welcomed kindly. She has a lot of trouble dealing with the situation, even saying, “I scarcely dared to look/ to see what I was” (64 & 65). This line shows her fear of what she has come to realize; the world was much bigger than what she has seen. She describes volcanoes, cannibalistic explorers, and babies wound in string. But with all of these upsetting images, the one that affects her the most is a picture of a naked woman. This is interesting because she disregards the images that most would find disturbing, and is disturbed by the one image that seems to be the least controversial of them all. This is because she not only misunderstands the other images, but she is also seeing herself for the first time as a woman in a very large world. The importance of this epiphany was so strong that after reading the of the magazine, she states, “Suddenly, from inside,/ came an oh! of pain/ - Aunt Consuelo’s voice - ” (6 & 7). With this she continues on to say that the sound came first from inside, then from her Aunt, and then thinks that it may have actually been her, returning to the idea of it coming from inside.

I might have been embarrassed,

but wasn’t. What took me by surprise

was that it was me

my voice, in my mouth.

Without thinking at all

I was my foolish aunt. (4- 4)

This shows her connection with being a woman even further. Because she does not seem to agree with the way her Aunt conducts herself as weak, it allows the reasoning for displeasure of being a woman.

With all of these ideas slowly invading her mind, Elizabeth fades off into a sort of daze. She tries to get a hold of reality by telling herself that her eighth birthday is in a few days and that she is one of “them,” (6) but still struggles to understand why she is in this categorization, allowing disorientation to take hold of her.

I knew nothing stranger

had ever happened, that nothing

stranger could ever happen.

Why should I be my aunt,

or me, or anyone?

What similarities-

boots, hands, the family voice

I felt in my throat, or even

the National Geographic

and those awful hanging breasts-

held us all together

or made us all just one? (7-8)

This passage further shows her confusion for being in a category with the women like her Aunt and the woman in the magazine. She doesn’t understand the ways of woman yet and finds the whole thing to be “’unlikely’” (85) for her to be like the women of the world. Then she finally accepts this fate with concluding that the cry could have gotten worse.

The problem of identification is also shown in the way Elizabeth tells us this story. In the beginning of this poem, Bishop names everything with capitalized titles such as “Aunt Consuelo,” () “Worcester, Massachusetts,” (1) “Osa and Martin Johnson,” (1) and even “February” (5). This identification are used frequently during the times when she is secure with herself, and less so when she is a little lost in her insight of her station in life. Things are identified as “it” in several occasions where she cannot name the idea or item. She states “It got dark/ early,” (5 & 6) “I read it straight through,” () “I was saying it to stop,” (56), and even “Then I was back in it,” (line 5) towards the end. This need for naming shows her battle with trying to identify herself and the world around her. It is apparent through this language how young and insecure Elizabeth is during this time.

With this language, we can also feel her emotion. When she has the things she feels confident with capitalized, we feel confident as well, but when she labels something as “it,” we are confused just she is as well. Even when she misunderstands “Long Pig,” (5) for the name of the pictured dead man, instead as a label for food, we feel like we are secure with what he is because he has a title. There is no room for confusion or insecurity when things have their labels, and we feel this way by the end of the poem. We want to know all of the things that she doesn’t know as well.

The structure of the poem helps us feel where Elizabeth’s state of mind is at each moment of the poem. In the first stanza she is firmly grounded in the doctors office’s waiting room reading the National Geographic. Then as her thoughts take over, she is sliding off into an unconscious state in the next stanza, and Bishop is desperately trying to keep with reality. It is this offset paragraph that we begin to follow Bishop’s swirl of emotions off being cast off as something apart from the rest. These feelings of difference are actually physically set off from the rest of the poem, giving the ideas more impact and feeling. There is then a short stanza that Elizabeth actually blacks out, “It was sliding/ beneath a big black wave,/ another, and another” (-4). For a girl of seven years this is very interesting. Most children of that age are not expected to feel so deeply about something that they would faint or black out like this. This may be why this poem was written. Bishop may have wanted to show that she has always been different than other women, she is a poet, and stronger than the average woman, even if she does have her moments of weakness. Then last stanza brings us back to reality, and back to the waiting room in “Worcester, Massachusetts” (7). We feel safe and secure with things that we can identify with her such as the “War,” (6) and “February” (100)in this stanza. These things solidify that the the waiting roomreality that she wanted to get back to for us, as well as it does for her.

Although the poem is structured as such, it is read like a story. Within this story there is music that allows the story to become a poem. When Bishop is lost in her imagination of connectedness, the music is weakly heard, but while she is in reality, it is strong. In the beginning she shows some music by connecting the sounds of certain words such as “Worcester…Massachusetts…Consuelo,” where the “s” is dominant (1, ). Here she is in reality and continues the connection of sounds like “I read it right straight through,” () with the “r” stringing the words along in a melody. When Bishop is in her state of delirium however, her music is more sporadic, and helps show her state of confusion. She uses repetition of words instead to show the music in these areas of the poem.

How- I didn’t know any

Word for it- how “unlikely”…

How had I come to be here, (84-86)

The use of “how” is threading the ideas together in music here instead of just using the sounds that replicate in several different words. It is almost like a stuttering music in the situations where she is uncomfortable and a soothing sound of words when she is calm.

Elizabeth’s epiphany of self is illustrated with extraordinary talent. In this poem she is able to tell us exactly how it felt to realize how uncomfortable she was when she discovered her place in life. Her experience is shown through her language and structure of her ideas throughout the story. The poem is read as if it was a story and not a poem at all, but the music creates a song of emotion that denotes its strong poetry characteristics. Her identification with herself as a woman in the world is understood and shines a new light on the poet herself. The ideas of her strong sense of awareness so early on easily names Elizabeth Bishop as someone extraordinary. It is amazing how something shallowly read can be so deeply awakening.

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