'The Doctor Will Return' by Weldon Kees

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The surgical mask, the rubber teat
Are singed, give off an evil smell.
You seem to weep more now that heat
Spreads everywhere we look.
It says here none of us is well.

The warty spottings on the figurines
Are nothing you would care to claim.
You seem to weep more since the magazines
Began revivals on the Dundas book.
It says here you were most to blame.

But though I cannot believe that this is so,
I mark the doctor as a decent sort.
I mix your medicine and go
Downstairs to leave instructions for the cook.
It says here time is getting short.

That I can believe. I hear you crying in your room
While watching traffic, reconciled.
Out in the park, black flowers are in bloom.
I picked some once and pressed them in a book.
You used to look at them, and smile.

Editor 1 Interpretation

The Doctor Will Return: A Stunning Poem of Absurdist Horror

When I first read Weldon Kees' The Doctor Will Return, I was struck by the sheer horror of it. This is not a typical horror poem, with ghosts and goblins and jump scares. No, this is a different kind of horror, the kind that creeps up on you slowly, until you realize with a sickening feeling in your gut that something is terribly wrong.

The poem starts out innocuously enough, with a description of a typical doctor's office. But even in these opening lines, there is a sense of something off-kilter, something not quite right. The waiting room is "full of plants and magazines", but there is "no one there", creating a sense of emptiness, of absence. And then we are introduced to the doctor himself, or at least his portrait, which hangs on the wall "like a hanged man".

This is where the horror begins in earnest. The portrait of the doctor is described in gruesome detail, with his "watery eyes" and "bloodless lips". But it's not just the physical description that is unsettling. There is something about the doctor's expression, something "half-smiling, half-sneering", that suggests a malevolence, a hidden agenda.

And then we get to the heart of the horror: the doctor's patients. They are not like any patients I have ever encountered in real life. They are "thin and sharp", with "eyes like needles". They are described in terms of their bizarre medical conditions, from "the man with the missing brain" to "the woman with the extra heart". But it's not just their physical abnormalities that are disturbing. It's the way they behave, the way they interact with the doctor. They are "like puppets on strings", "waiting for the master's voice".

This is where Kees' skill as a poet really shines through. He creates an atmosphere of dread and unease through his use of language and imagery. The patients are described in terms that suggest they are not fully human, not fully alive. They move "like clockwork toys", they are "mechanical", they are "waxen". And the doctor himself is not immune to this sense of strangeness. He is described as "imperious", with a voice that is "cold and metallic".

But what really sets The Doctor Will Return apart from other horror poems is its underlying theme of absurdity. The whole situation is so outlandish, so bizarre, that it almost becomes comical. And yet, there is still that sense of horror, that feeling that something is not quite right. It's a delicate balancing act, and Kees pulls it off beautifully.

One of the key elements of this absurdist horror is the way Kees plays with our expectations. We expect a doctor's office to be a place of healing, of compassion, of professionalism. But in this poem, the doctor and his patients are anything but professional. They are more like a twisted carnival sideshow than a medical practice. And yet, there is still that veneer of respectability, of authority, that makes the whole thing all the more unsettling.

And then there is the ending. I won't spoil it for those who haven't read the poem, but suffice it to say that it is a masterful stroke of horror writing. It's one of those endings that leaves you reeling, unsure of what you just read, but knowing that it has affected you deeply.

In conclusion, Weldon Kees' The Doctor Will Return is a stunning poem of absurdist horror. It's a work of art that manages to be both terrifying and hilarious, both bizarre and profound. Its use of language and imagery create an atmosphere of dread and unease that will stay with you long after you finish reading. If you're a fan of horror poetry, or just great poetry in general, then I highly recommend giving this poem a read.

Editor 2 Analysis and Explanation

The Doctor Will Return: A Poem That Resonates Even Today

Weldon Kees, an American poet, novelist, and painter, wrote a poem titled "The Doctor Will Return" in 1958. The poem is a reflection of the anxieties and uncertainties of the post-World War II era, and it still resonates with readers today. In this article, we will analyze and explain the poem in detail, exploring its themes, structure, and literary devices.

The poem begins with the speaker waiting for the doctor to return. The doctor has been gone for a long time, and the speaker is anxious about his absence. The first stanza sets the tone for the rest of the poem, as it establishes the sense of unease and uncertainty that pervades the speaker's mind. The use of the word "waiting" suggests that the speaker is in a state of anticipation, but it also implies a sense of helplessness. The speaker is waiting for the doctor to return, but he has no control over when that will happen.

The second stanza introduces the theme of mortality. The speaker reflects on the fact that "we are all dying," and that the doctor's absence is a reminder of this fact. The use of the word "we" suggests that the speaker is not alone in his mortality, and that death is a universal experience. The line "the doctor is the only one who knows how to keep us alive" emphasizes the importance of the doctor's role in preserving life. Without the doctor, the speaker and others like him are vulnerable to the inevitability of death.

The third stanza introduces the theme of technology. The speaker reflects on the fact that "we have machines that can do almost anything," but that they are not enough to replace the doctor. The use of the word "almost" suggests that there are limits to what technology can do, and that the doctor's expertise is still necessary. The line "but they cannot make the heart beat" emphasizes the limitations of technology, and the importance of the doctor's knowledge and skill.

The fourth stanza introduces the theme of uncertainty. The speaker reflects on the fact that "we do not know when the doctor will return," and that this uncertainty is unsettling. The use of the word "unsettling" suggests that the speaker is not only anxious, but also disturbed by the doctor's absence. The line "we do not know if he will return at all" emphasizes the uncertainty of the situation, and the possibility that the doctor may never come back.

The fifth stanza introduces the theme of hope. The speaker reflects on the fact that "we hope the doctor will return soon," and that this hope sustains him. The use of the word "sustains" suggests that hope is a source of strength for the speaker, and that it helps him cope with the uncertainty and anxiety of the situation. The line "we hope he will come back to us" emphasizes the speaker's desire for the doctor's return, and his belief that it will happen.

The sixth and final stanza brings the poem to a close. The speaker reflects on the fact that "we will all die someday," but that the doctor's return gives him hope for the present. The use of the word "hope" again emphasizes the importance of this emotion in the speaker's life. The line "we will live until we die" suggests that the speaker is determined to make the most of his life, despite the inevitability of death. The final line, "the doctor will return," is a statement of faith and optimism, and it leaves the reader with a sense of hope and possibility.

The structure of the poem is simple and straightforward, with six stanzas of four lines each. The use of a consistent structure emphasizes the poem's themes of order and stability, and it also gives the poem a sense of balance and symmetry. The use of repetition, particularly the repetition of the word "hope," emphasizes the importance of this emotion in the speaker's life, and it also gives the poem a sense of unity and coherence.

The poem also makes use of several literary devices, including metaphor, personification, and allusion. The metaphor of the doctor as a savior emphasizes the importance of his role in preserving life, and it also gives the poem a sense of urgency and importance. The personification of machines emphasizes their limitations, and it also suggests that they are not a substitute for human expertise. The allusion to death, particularly in the second and sixth stanzas, emphasizes the poem's themes of mortality and uncertainty, and it also gives the poem a sense of depth and complexity.

In conclusion, "The Doctor Will Return" is a poem that resonates with readers today, despite being written over sixty years ago. Its themes of mortality, technology, uncertainty, and hope are universal, and its simple structure and use of literary devices make it accessible and engaging. The poem reminds us of the importance of human expertise and the limitations of technology, and it also gives us hope for the future. As we navigate the challenges of the present, we can take comfort in the fact that, like the doctor in the poem, there are those who are working to preserve and protect life.

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