Can I have a detailed analysis of the poem "Sequence in a Hospital" by Elizabeth Jennings?

Expert Answers

An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In Part I, "Pain," the speaker describes the way fear has begun to invade her body and mind, and how she feels herself yielding to it.  As she lies in her hospital bed, she feels only dread, trying to stave off something worse: "oblivion."

In Part II, "The Ward," the...

Unlock
This Answer Now

Start your 48-hour free trial to unlock this answer and thousands more. Enjoy eNotes ad-free and cancel anytime.

Start your 48-Hour Free Trial

In Part I, "Pain," the speaker describes the way fear has begun to invade her body and mind, and how she feels herself yielding to it.  As she lies in her hospital bed, she feels only dread, trying to stave off something worse: "oblivion."

In Part II, "The Ward," the speaker provides details about other patients, details that they seem to use to "Keep death at bay": they talk about the past, even romanticize it, in order to quash thoughts of their present illness.  Outside, in the healthy world, it is spring or summer, and no healthy people really think about the pain inside.  The patients continue to focus on small things to get through.

In Part III, "After an Operation," the speaker talks about becoming completely subject to her fear.  Fear used to be attached to something more manageable and small, but now it is "general" and it consumes her present.  Yet she finds that she still wants to live, and she feels life stirring within her as she convalesces.  She is less afraid but forever changed.

In Part IV, "Patients in a Public Ward," she compares the patients to children, except they have flowers instead of toys.  Like children with toys, they hold their diseases close to them, possessing them, and each one really only speaks in order to please herself that she has not died.  The healthy world seems far away, and it has different concerns.  In the hospital, they have what they need, and those needs seem so small.  However, minor upsets once again raise the specter of death, making everyone fearful once again.  They realize it could be them next.

In Part V, "The Visitors," people come to see the speaker, and she tries to be sociable and hide her fear.  Their kindness makes her feel like crying, and she knows that when they leave, she will once against feel limp.  However, even in her worst moments, her mind has turned to these people, the memory of whom felt like "life" and "rain" in the "sick desert" of her illness.

In Part VI, "Hospital," things start to become a little more abstract.  The speaker addresses the long hours that all the patients lie in their beds, the way that flowers on their bedside tables wither and die.  It is mostly silent, and people do not speak of death, though it is always present.  The flowers seem to symbolize the people—petals falling near "muffled cries" behind drawn curtains. The world in the hospital is made of such small things as flowers.  People no longer talk of their philosophies or even their faith: only their own heartbeats can assure them they're still alive.  Only one man still dreams of his health and cries that it is gone; everyone else seems to have reached a certain level of acceptance.

In Part VII, "For a Woman with a Fatal Illness," the speaker tells of another patient who has been told her illness is terminal.  This patient is largely quiet, accepting the gifts brought to her by people who don't know what to say and so say nothing.  The speaker watches, feeling helpless and wishing for violence or something to happen to "break the terrible tension."  It seems cruel and unfair for death to "come so quietly."  It seems as though it should be more significant, louder, bigger.

In Part VIII, "Patients," the speaker feels that anything would be better than the feeling of helplessness: storms, lightning, violence.  She wants to shout into the silence to break it up.  People only move when they are in pain, and it feels as though they are almost no longer made of matter but depend only on the air.  The speaker seems to linger in a sort of limbo: she can still wish for signs that her health improves, but she can also imagine her illness growing worse.  

The poem sheds a great deal of light on the emotions one can experience in a hospital as a sick person or one who is convalescing.  We learn not only how fear begins to overtake many other emotions but also how the silence and pervasiveness of death can lead to terrible tensions and a sense of helplessness.  Certainly, in the end, the speaker's sense of limbo makes the entire experience feel like a kind of limbo as well: the hopsital seems like a place where people hover between life and death—not really living but not dead yet.  It is, perhaps, this bleak and matterless sort of existence that is scarier than death would be.  The lingering, symbolized in part by the various and many stages of the poem, may be the most painful part.

Approved by eNotes Editorial Team