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
swiftly suggest an easy, almost carefree quality to their movements.
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, used to describe their waists, helps us to understand why the speaker is so surprised by their ability to cope with their difficult job as 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 for the speaker, who 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. This, like the word choice, 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, while for the nurses it is something they must confront every day.
The final line in this stanza draws attention to the word
farewells which 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 too that perhaps he will meet his friend again, suggesting his desire to believe in an afterlife.