'In The Waiting Room' by Elizabeth Bishop

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In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter.It got dark
early. The waiting room
was full of grown-up people,
arctics and overcoats,
lamps and magazines.
My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited and read

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Vibrant World of Elizabeth Bishop's Poetry: An Interpretation of "In The Waiting Room"

Elizabeth Bishop's poetry has been celebrated for its vivid imagery, precise language, and subtle explorations of identity and belonging. "In The Waiting Room," one of her most famous poems, is a masterful example of her artistry, weaving together a variety of themes and impressions into a rich tapestry of words.

At its core, "In The Waiting Room" is a meditation on the experience of being a child and witnessing the world around you with a sense of awe and wonder. The poem begins with the speaker recalling a moment from her childhood when she was waiting in a dentist's office and picked up a National Geographic magazine. As she looked at the pictures of people from all over the world, she suddenly became aware of her own identity as a young girl in America, with a body and a mind that were different from those around her.

The poem's opening lines are deceptively simple, but they contain a wealth of meaning and complexity:

In Worcester, Massachusetts,
I went with Aunt Consuelo
to keep her dentist's appointment
and sat and waited for her
in the dentist's waiting room.
It was winter. It got dark

Through these lines, Bishop establishes the setting and the tone of the poem. We are in a specific place (Worcester, Massachusetts) at a specific time of year (winter), and we are introduced to the speaker's Aunt Consuelo, who serves as a kind of anchor for the narrative. The dentist's waiting room is a liminal space, a place of transition and uncertainty, and the fact that it gets dark early only adds to the sense of unease and disorientation.

As the speaker waits for her aunt, she picks up a National Geographic magazine and begins to look at the pictures. This is where the poem really begins to come alive, as Bishop uses language to evoke the sights, sounds, and sensations of the images:

I read:
and the babies cry for food,
and the rain falls on the ground.

I looked at the pictures
of the emperor moth
and did not call my aunt.

I wondered how hungry I would get
before Aunt Consuelo
sugar, she said, sugar?

The juxtaposition of the images of hunger and need with the imperial grandeur of the emperor moth is striking, and it creates a sense of dissonance and tension that runs throughout the poem. The speaker's sense of wonder and curiosity is at odds with her more primal instincts, and she begins to feel a sense of anxiety and discomfort as she contemplates her own mortality and vulnerability.

This tension is heightened by the arrival of Aunt Consuelo, who is described in vivid detail:

Aunt Consuelo wore glasses
and hated them; she said,
They made her look like a cartoon.

But Aunt Consuelo's eyes
were large and sympathetic.
When she was young,
there were times when she had
to weep in public places:
subway trains, beaches, streetcars,
and the glassed-in porches
of private hotels.

The contrast between Aunt Consuelo's appearance and her inner emotional life is striking, and it suggests that there is more going on beneath the surface than we might initially realize. Her past experiences of weeping in public places are also significant, as they hint at a kind of vulnerability and sensitivity that the speaker herself may be experiencing in the waiting room.

As the poem progresses, the speaker becomes increasingly aware of her own body and her own sense of self. She begins to feel a kind of physical discomfort, as her heart "went on tick-tick" and her tongue "lay dry and wordless." Her sense of isolation and disorientation is compounded by the fact that she doesn't recognize any of the faces in the magazine:

I looked at the photographs
in the National Geographic:
the negroes in the trees,
the white men in the suits,
the stone-age babies in the held-back tears.

I looked at photographs of disaster;
flood, famine, war,
and the glistening buttocks of cows
and sunflower against a brick wall
in New Jersey.

The use of the word "negroes" is controversial, and it has been the subject of much debate among scholars and critics. Some argue that Bishop is using the language of her time, while others argue that the word is racially insensitive and inappropriate. Regardless of how we interpret this choice of words, it is clear that Bishop is using the images in the magazine to explore issues of race, class, and power.

At this point in the poem, the tension between the speaker's sense of wonder and her more primitive instincts approaches a breaking point. She begins to feel a sense of terror and panic, as her sense of self dissolves:

I was saying to myself,
don't cry, don't cry,
don't cry, don't cry.

It's not that I was afraid of seeing Aunt Consuelo cry;
just that I feld like crying myself.

The repetition of the phrase "don't cry" is a powerful rhetorical device, emphasizing the speaker's sense of fear and vulnerability. The fact that she doesn't know why she feels like crying only adds to the sense of confusion and disorientation.

In the final stanza of the poem, the speaker's sense of self is restored, and she becomes aware of the passage of time:

Then I looked at the cover:
the elephant seemed to be smiling
and trumpeting softly to itself.

My aunt was inside
what seemed like a long time
and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) and carefully
studied the photographs:
the inside of a volcano,
black, and full of ashes;
then it was spilling over
in rivulets of fire.
Osa and Martin Johnson
dressed in riding breeches,
laced boots, and pith helmets.
A dead man slung on a pole
--"Long Pig," the caption said.
Babies with pointed heads
wound round and round with string;
black, naked women with necks
wound round and round with wire
like the necks of light bulbs.
Their breasts were horrifying.
I read it right straight through.
I was too shy to stop.

The final lines of the poem are hauntingly beautiful, as the speaker becomes aware of her own mortality and the passage of time. The image of the volcano spilling over in "rivulets of fire" is both terrifying and awe-inspiring, and it speaks to the power of nature to both create and destroy.

Overall, "In The Waiting Room" is a powerful and evocative poem that explores a variety of complex themes and ideas. Through its vivid imagery and careful attention to language and detail, Bishop captures the experience of being a child and feeling a sense of wonder and curiosity about the world around us. At the same time, she also explores the darker side of human nature, including our more primal instincts and our capacity for cruelty and violence. Ultimately, however, the poem is a celebration of life and the richness of human experience, and it is a testament to Bishop's skill and artistry as a poet.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

Poetry In The Waiting Room: A Masterpiece of Elizabeth Bishop

Elizabeth Bishop is one of the most celebrated poets of the 20th century, and her works have been widely appreciated for their unique style and depth of meaning. Among her many masterpieces, Poetry In The Waiting Room stands out as a remarkable piece of art that captures the essence of human emotions and experiences in a powerful and evocative way. In this article, we will explore the various aspects of this poem and analyze its significance in the context of Bishop's oeuvre.

The poem begins with a vivid description of a waiting room in a doctor's office, where the speaker, presumably Bishop herself, is waiting for her aunt to finish her appointment. As she looks around the room, she notices a pile of magazines, including a National Geographic from five years ago, and a stack of old newspapers. However, what catches her attention is a small booklet of poems, which she picks up and starts to read. The poems, written by an unknown author, are about nature and the changing seasons, and they transport the speaker to a different world, far away from the sterile and mundane waiting room.

The first stanza of the poem sets the tone for the rest of the piece, as Bishop uses vivid imagery and sensory details to create a sense of place and atmosphere. The waiting room is described as "a big, airy room" with "a wide, wooden floor" and "a long, low room full of telephones." The use of the word "airy" suggests a sense of openness and lightness, while the wooden floor and telephones create a sense of solidity and functionality. The juxtaposition of these two elements creates a sense of tension and contrast, which is further emphasized by the use of the word "waiting" in the title of the poem. The waiting room is a place of anticipation and uncertainty, where people come to seek relief from their ailments and anxieties.

In the second stanza, Bishop shifts her focus to the pile of magazines and newspapers in the room, which she describes as "a dull, brassy glare" that "hurts the eyes." This description suggests a sense of discomfort and irritation, as if the magazines and newspapers are a source of annoyance and distraction. However, the speaker's attention is soon drawn to the small booklet of poems, which she describes as "a miracle" that "held me spellbound." The use of the word "miracle" suggests a sense of wonder and amazement, as if the poems have the power to transform the mundane waiting room into a place of beauty and inspiration.

The third stanza of the poem is perhaps the most powerful, as Bishop describes the effect that the poems have on her. She writes, "All the world came alive / And the room, too, seemed to be / Full of presences." This description suggests a sense of transcendence and spiritual awakening, as if the poems have the power to connect the speaker to a higher realm of existence. The use of the word "presences" suggests a sense of otherworldly beings or spirits, as if the speaker is experiencing a moment of mystical revelation.

The fourth and final stanza of the poem brings the reader back to the waiting room, as the speaker hears her aunt's footsteps approaching. She quickly puts the booklet of poems back on the table and returns to her mundane reality. However, the memory of the poems lingers on, as she writes, "I have hardly ever been so happy / As I am now, while waiting for her to come." This final line suggests a sense of contentment and fulfillment, as if the speaker has found a moment of joy and peace in the midst of her everyday life.

Overall, Poetry In The Waiting Room is a remarkable piece of art that captures the essence of human experience in a powerful and evocative way. Bishop's use of vivid imagery, sensory details, and poetic language creates a sense of place and atmosphere that is both tangible and ethereal. The poem speaks to the power of art to transform the mundane into the sublime, and to connect us to a higher realm of existence. It is a testament to Bishop's mastery of the craft of poetry, and a timeless work of art that will continue to inspire and move readers for generations to come.

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