The poem begins with a description of the speaker’s progress through the corridors of the hospital.
MacCaig chooses to mention unusual details (the movements of his nose) and the colours of the walls as he makes the journey.
MacCaig appeals to our sense of smell as he describes how
The hospital smell/combs my nostrils. This is evocative, bringing to mind the pervasive smells with which we associate hospitals.
The metaphor helps to underline the strength of the smell in the air, by comparing it with a comb. Just as a comb brushes through hair, the odour assaults our sense of smell and is overwhelming.
As we read on, we discover this is part of the unavoidable reality of visiting someone in hospital - even if we try to suppress our emotions, the environment roots us in reality.
MacCaig uses the synecdoche in the lines
my nostrils/as they go bobbing along.
Synecdoche is a technique using part of something to refer to the whole. In this case, MacCaig uses his nostrils to refer to himself. He emphasises how the overpowering smell of the hospital has blocked out his other senses.
At the same time the word choice
bobbing has pleasant connotations, as though he is trying to trick himself into thinking the experience won’t be as bad as he anticipates.
Colour is also used to root the reader in the experience. The simple colour scheme is a concept familiar to most hospital visitors.
Here the word choices of
yellow have connotations of sickness.
Visiting a hospital is often a difficult experience and, despite the speaker’s intellectual attempt to avoid an emotional response, his senses force him to confront the reality of the situation.