The Hospital Window


The Hospital Window Essay, Research Paper

The death of a loved one can put unimaginable stress on the

loved ones of the deceased. This stress can make one’s life chaotic

and unpleasant for long periods of time if the mourners do not

underezd the death. James Dickey, who believes, “poetry is the

center of the creative wheel,” wrote the poem, “The Hospital Window”.

The relationship between mourners and death becomes apparent in this

“simple 54-line poem . . . about a parent’s dying as a transformative

experience, and the possibility that love conquers fear.” The poem

takes place on a city street adjacent to a large hospital. In “The

Hospital Window”, Dickey uses images which represent life and death to

demonstrate that the death of a loved one can make one enter a

surrealistic state, in which everyday occurrences appear to be

heavenly; however, if one can overcome the death by underezding it,

he can then return to a peaceful life.

In the beginning of the poem, the images which distinguish

life and death show that the speaker perceives normal events as

spiritual after leaving his father’s hospital room. Dickey’s

persona enters this state when he is on the hospital elevator. As the

elevator brings him down to ground level, he remembers his father

lying in his room above “in a blue light.”(3) According to Gertrude

Jobes, the color blue represents heaven and God. Therefore, its

shining down on the speaker’s father represents God’s presence with

his father. For any other observer, the light is obviously “shed by

a tinted window,”(4) but the speaker’s state of mind leads him to

believe that the light shines from heaven. Once outside, the speaker

turns to face the hospital. As he turns, he sees that “[each] window

possesses the sun / As though it burned there on a wick.”(13) To

Jobes, the sun represents life. A candle wick burns for only a

certain period of time, and then dies out. Therefore, the speaker

believes that the reflection of the sun in the windows is actually

his father’s life. When the speaker reaches out to the sun, and

“[waves], like a man catching fire,”(15) he tries to grab his

father’s life back. At that moment, the glare from the sun reflects

in a certain way, making “all the deep-dyed windowpanes flash.”(16)

This flash, in the speaker’s mind, is God reaching out for the

father’s soul. Also, the flash mocks the speaker’s attempts at

grabbing his father’s life from the grips of death. Furthermore, the

speaker visualizes God’s presence by “all the white rooms / [turning]

the color of Heaven.”(18) To the speaker, the heavenly white color of

the rooms represents purity and innocence, as described in Jobes,

while others see merely white rooms. As the speaker studies the

windows, he sees that all reflect “flames”(21), or the candles of the

living still burning. It is then he realizes that his father’s window

is different. It reflects “the bright, erased blankness of

nothing.”(23) The flickering light visible in all of the other rooms

is not visible in his father’s room because he is dead. Once the

speaker realizes his father is dead, he can start to overcome the


In the middle of the poem, images representing life and death

show how the speaker overcomes his father’s death. After experiencing

the madness of death, the speaker transitions from not believing in

the death to realizing that his father is leaving him. First, the

speaker realizes that his father’s body remains in his room “[in] the

shape of his death still living”(25). Death still living represents

the father’s dead body, with the soul still alive within. This

thought causes a madness within the speaker because he realizes that

his father’s soul, oreverything he was, may remain within the corpse

forever. Eventually, his father’s soul “lifts [its] arms out of

stillness at last”(31), causing the speaker to realize that his

father’s soul is leaving the body. The speaker “[turns] as blue as a

soul / As the moment when I was born”(33-34) from the realization that

his father will live on with him forever. This realization holds true

because his father gave him life, so therefore his father will live on

in his life. Additionally, the speaker realizes that he is “not

afraid for [his] father,”(35) for he knows his father will live

eternally in heaven as well as inside of him. On the same note, his

father “is grinning; he is not / Afraid for [the speaker's] life,

either.”(36-37) The grin shows that the speaker realizes his father is

pleased with the way he raised him; thus, his father is not worried

about the paths his son will choose. Conclusively, by overcoming his

father’s death, the speaker begins to shift back into a peaceful life.

In the ending ezzas, Dickey uses images demonstrating life

and death to show that the speaker returns to a peaceful life. In the

process of shifting back into his everyday life, the speaker becomes

proud of his father, hoping that “the dying may float without fear /

in the bold blue gaze of [his] father.”(43-44) This thought by the

speaker shows how he want the other souls to act like his father, and

migrate toward heaven unafraid. His proudness not only allows him to

be at peace with himself, but also to think positively of his father.

The speaker does not completely exit his delusional state until

starts to feel his “pin-tingling hand half dead.”(46) His hand fell

asleep in the time which he held it up toward his father. He stares

at his hand “in amazement,”(48) wondering why it is asleep. This

amazement demonstrates that the speaker does not clearly remember his

previous state of mind. By not remembering it, he can more easily

return to a peaceful life. Finally, the speaker comprehends that his

father looks down upon him from heaven through the “created hue of

stained glass, “(52) or the separation of the worlds of heaven and

earth. The speaker then proceeds to realize how valuable the part of

his father that lives on with him is. At this point, the speaker has

“just come down from [his] father,” meaning that he has surpassed the

sadness of his father’s death. In conclusion, the speaker returns to

a peaceful life.

“The Hospital Window” demonstrates the method in which is

necessary to overcome a death. The surrealistic state one enters when

a death occurs can become very confusing. The mourner’s life becomes

peaceful again only when the mourner underezds the death. This

reaction to death is common throughout society, especially because the

world stops for no one, causing uncomparable stress on the mourner.

When the death involves a direct family member, the reaction can be

worse. As in the poem, one must overcome the death as quickly as

possible so that he does not cause harmful stress to himself. The

underezding of the death is also important; in most cases, it is the

only way one can overcome death.

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