Stanza four

The focus of the poem now moves onto the nurses in the hospital. MacCaig’s word choice reveals the efficiency with which they go about their jobs. The adverbs lightly and swiftly suggest an easy, almost carefree quality to their movements.

They move here and up and down and there. The word order suggests they are constantly on the move - the repetition of the word “and” underlines this.

The adjective slender is used to describe their waists. This helps us understand that the speaker is surprised they can cope with such a difficult job when they seem so delicate.

The speaker describes the nurses' burden. A burden is a weight and their ability to carry this emotional baggage on such light frames is astonishing to the speaker. In contrast, he struggles to prevent his feelings from coming to the surface.

The parallel structure of so much pain, so/many deaths and so many farewells emphasises the emotional strain of the nurses’ job.

Like the word choice this helps us to understand the speaker’s incredulity at the way the nurses are able to function so efficiently when surrounded by so much pain and suffering.

For the speaker, death is something that is difficult to deal with. For the nurses it is something they must confront every day.

The final line in this stanza draws attention to the word farewells. This links to the next and reminds us of the main purpose of the speaker's visit.

This word has connotations of saying goodbye to someone embarking on a journey. While death is the final journey all of us must make, there is an implication that perhaps he will meet his friend again. This suggests his desire to believe in an afterlife.