How effective is the use of personal pronouns in Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair"?

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Michael Ugulini eNotes educator| Certified Educator

The use of personal pronouns in Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" are effective in that they lend to the poem a feeling of intimate conversation between the poem’s narrator and the doctor at the hospital.

This free verse poem (25 lines) of one relatively long stanza methodically moves to its dramatic conclusion, employing the personal pronouns “I”, “us”,” you”, and “we." The personal pronoun “you” is used the most. This gives this poem its emotional power as the narrator is directing words directly to the doctor who had the unpleasant task of having to care for a baby horrifically raped.

The incessant use of “you” drives home the point that the narrator is disgusted at this terrible act and feels greatly for the emotional and mental toll it must have taken on the doctor. While doctors and other health care professionals are trained to not take their jobs and patient associations personally, no doubt this is easier said than done and certainly the narrator is addressing this issue here in this particular poem.

Consider the powerful use of “you” in these three lines:

“and while you staunched”

“and when you administered an infant-sized opiate”

“and when you called for more blood”

These are just three examples of what this doctor had to do to save this raped infant's life. He or she had to staunch the baby’s blood flow from its rape injury or injuries. The doctor had to give the infant a powerful drug to dull her senses so she wouldn’t feel pain. In addition, the doctor had to call for more blood as the situation was evidently critical.

So, we see what this doctor is really dealing with. It almost feels as if we ourselves are saying “you” to the doctor as the poem becomes personal to us, the readers. This feeling of personalizing the poem is also achieved by Finuala Dowling using the personal pronoun “I” as the narrator tells his or her story.

We are witnessing a heartfelt talk to the doctor. The people involved in this incident have empathy for this doctor. The poet effectively utilizes personal pronouns to make the point that those who witnessed what the doctor did are grateful.

Furthermore, the personal pronoun “we” is used in these lines:

“…we all slept in trust (line 22)

… that you could do what you did.” (line 24)

Therefore, personal pronouns are a way to bring readers deeper into a poem and its subject matter so that they can better identify with the characters that populate the poem.