Stanza five

The use of caesura– a pause that breaks up a line of verse– in the opening of this stanza illustrates the immediate, inescapable simplicity of the situation: Ward 7. We have followed the speaker’s progress along the corridors of the hospital and this ward is his destination.

It is significant: the short sentence punctuates the stark reality of the situation, and from here on in, it will be impossible to escape the spectre of death. This is a turning point in the poem as now he must confront the reality of the situation he has been so desperate to avoid.

While the walls of the hospital corridor were colourful, MacCaig uses a metaphor to describe the patient’s white cave of forgetfulness. This reveals the isolation and lack of any sensory awareness in her current state and also emphasises how distant she is now from the speaker.

The patient’s hand seems fragile, MacCaig’s word choice detailing how it is withered and trembles. By comparing her body to a dying flower he conveys how brittle and frail she is now, as well as hinting at her past vitality.

However, there is also an implicit hope that, just as flowers and plants die and go to seed, so too there is the possibility for regrowth and new life, again revealing the speaker’s desire to believe in some kind of afterlife.

The use of the pronoun its instead of she here serves to dehumanise the woman, suggesting her body is merely an empty shell and she is no longer truly alive. This idea of emptiness and hollowness links back to the cave imagery from earlier in the stanza.

The arm of a hospital patient, with a drip attached

One of the most memorable images from Visiting Hour is the description of the needle in the patient’s arm as a glass fang.

The comparison of the intravenous drip to a vampire is shocking and shows how frightening the speaker finds the medical equipment attached to the patient. However, unlike a vampire’s fang which is designed to drain blood, this needle is not guzzling but giving.

Nevertheless, the harsh sound of the alliterative g conveys a sense of bitterness as the speaker feels the medication is both intrusive and ineffective.