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‘Visiting Hour’ – Norman McCaig. Notes on the text including analysis. Stanza 1. McCaig goes to visit dying mother in hospital. Setting in stanza 1 confirms that the title is not ambiguous. McCaig notices the smell of the hospital and the décor – yellow and green. .

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visiting hour norman mccaig

‘Visiting Hour’ – Norman McCaig

Notes on the text including analysis

stanza 1
Stanza 1
  • McCaig goes to visit dying mother in hospital. Setting in stanza 1 confirms that the title is not ambiguous. McCaig notices the smell of the hospital and the décor – yellow and green.
the hospital smell combs my nostrils
The hospital smellcombs my nostrils
  • Personification – smell overpowers his senses
    • combs – discomfort as the smell invadies his senses
    • hospital – shows clear setting connotation of life and death
as they go bobbing along
As they go bobbingalong
  • bobbing along – assonance to emphasise he feels adrift, lost (in the hospital and without his friend/relative)
    • bobbing - shows that he is adrift, unsure of the direction
green and yellow corridors
green and yellow corridors.
  • green and yellow
    • Connotation – sickness stresses his discomfort of the surroundings
stanza 2
Stanza 2
  • McCaig passes by a patient who looks close to death before they are taken moved in a lift
what seems a corpse
What seems a corpse
  • Metaphor – patient appears dead, poet cannot believe it is still alive
    • What - like it is no longer human and cannot tell age/sex
    • corpse – continues negative tone suggesting there is little relation to life and the finality of death
is trundled into a lift and vanishes
is trundled into a lift and vanishes
  • Trundle – moves slowly past, not in a hurry
    • Juxtaposes the word “corpse”
  • Vanishes – will never be seen again/death
  • Enjambment – word on its own for emphasis
    • Literal: Patient is being moved to a floor above
    • Metaphorical: poet expects patient to die and go to heaven, making light of it
stanza 3
Stanza 3
  • McCaig wills himself not to get emotional in public.
i will not feel i will not feel until i have to
I will not feel, I will not/ feel, until/ I have to
  • Repetition – poets thoughts laid bare as if chanting under his breathe to not show emotion as he is clearly upset
  • Reader feels sympathy for poet
stanza 4
Stanza 4
  • Praises the nurses for their strength and ability to carry on after seeing so many deaths.
nurses walk lightly swiftly
Nurses walk lightly, swiftly,
  • Nurses glide purposefully and elegantly
here and up and down and there
here and up and down and there
  • Unusual syntax (word order) emphasises the number of nurses there are and have the ability of omnipresence (everywhere at once)
their slender waists miraculously
Their slender waistsmiraculously
  • Amazed that they can deal with death and suffering with such slight frames
  • Miraculously – admiration of nurses abilities, links with image of heavenward and omnipresence
of so much pain so many deaths so many farewells
Of so much pain, so/ many deaths…/ so many farewells
  • Repetition – stresses amount of times nurses have to deal with unpleasant things, which supports the respect (envy?) poet has for them
eyes still clear
Eyes still clear
  • Remain strong
  • Not crying
so many farewells
So many farewells.
  • Euphemism – a word or phrase that makes a serious/terrible event sound less harsh farewell = death
    • The purpose of his visit is to say goodbye
    • Will possibly meet again suggesting his desire to believe in the afterlife at such troubling times
stanza 5
Stanza 5

Arrives at ward 7 where his friend/relative is. She appears close to death and does not seem to recognise the poet.

ward 7 she lies
Ward 7. She lies
  • Non-sentence and caesura (sentence stopping part way through a line) is abrupt. Jolts the reader in the same way that the poet is affected
  • Turning point of poem as now McCaig must face his emotions
in a white cave of forgetfulness
In a white cave of forgetfulness
  • Metaphor – the curtains and sheets are cave-like conveying her isolation
    • Forgetfulness – ambiguous the room shows no sign of previous patients or she is losing her memory or McCaig wishes to forget the image
a withered hand trembles on its stalk
A withered hand/ trembles on its stalk
  • Metaphor – woman’s body is frail and brittle, by comparing it to a dying flower (stalk)
    • Withered – deteriorated state
    • Trembles – emphasises old age of the woman
    • Its – pronoun dehumanises woman, suggesting McCaig does not see her as human but her body is merely an empty shell, while she is effectively dead
eyes move behind eyelids too heavy to raise
Eyes move behind eyelids too heavy to raise.
  • Emphasises how ill the woman is
  • Syntax of missed pronoun (her) emphasises that the woman does not seem truly human/alive to the poet
into an arm wasted of colour
Into an arm wasted of colour
  • Wasted
    • is wasting away
    • no longer used
glass fang is fixed
glass fang is fixed
  • Metaphor – suggesting the I.V. canula in arm is like a vampire draining her life-force. The horror of the image shows the poet is shocked and distressed
  • Alliteration – (“fang… fixed”) emphasises that the I.V. has to remain to support her life but McCaig is horrified by it
not guzzling but giving
Not guzzling but giving
  • Horror at “glass fang” image is continued by the word “guzzling”, but reversed by the word “giving”. The alliteration of the guttaral “g” sound conveys the harshness of the poet’s feelings towards it – pointless and intrusive
the distance of pain that neither she nor i can cross
the distance of pain that neither she nor I/ can cross
  • Metaphor – too painful to admit she is dying so neither talk about it
    • Sense of futility/uselessness
    • Acknowledging her physical pain and his emotional pain
can cross
can cross.
  • Alliteration Guttaral “c” sound emphasises the unpleasant situation
  • Enjambment – emphasise that it is not possible for McCaig to show his emotions.
stanza 6
Stanza 6
  • He leaves at the end of the hour in a heightened state of emotion leaving behind some books and fruit as a present.
she smiles a little
She smiles a little
  • Switched perspective – now from her P.O.V. and is comforted by visit from McCaig. This helps McCaig to cope
black figure in her white cave
black figure in her white cave
  • Metaphor – McCaig appears blurred in her sight and refers to the universal image of death (McCaig leaving, death appearing)
  • Metaphor – the emphasis on her isolation in the hospital bay now that McCaig is leaving
  • McCaig is overcome with emotion and dazed by the experience
  • She views McCaig as childlike
round swimming waves of a bell
round swimming waves of a bell
  • The bell rings gently to signify the end of the visit/ her life
  • The sound envelops in a less obtrusive manner than the smell of the hospital in the first stanza
growing fainter
growing fainter,
  • Shows the woman’s vision is blurry as she sees him grow fainter as he walks away.
and fruitless fruits
and fruitless fruits
  • Enjambment – last line shows the bitter despair at the hoplessness
  • Oxymoron – emphasises the pointlessness of the prolonged death and his inability to help – bringing fruit has been “fruitless”/pointless