John Ashbery’s “Darlene’s Hospital” is a seventy-five-line free-verse lyric poem in four verse paragraphs of roughly equal length. The poem explores the process of the poet’s mind as it focuses on the phrase “Darlene’s Hospital.” Like many other Ashbery poems, this one concerns itself with memory and time while both describing and evoking the flow of language and association through the present. Perhaps the simplest thematic statement one could make about “Darlene’s Hospital” is that it is a meditation on the way memory and imagination deal with loneliness and the passage of time, an ever-present reminder of mortality. The daydreaming in the poem is more realistic and less romantic than the daydreams in nineteenth century poetry, but an uneasy tension between realism and romance remains.
Although it is tempting to suppose that Ashbery had been reading Alfred, Lord Tennyson’s poem “The Lady of Shallot” or looking at one of the Pre-Raphaelite paintings based on that poem, “Darlene’s Hospital” is not a straightforward retelling of Tennyson’s narrative. The room on the island of Shallot where the lady in Tennyson’s poem weaves a “magic web with colors gay” based on her view in a mirror of the landscape around Camelot is mimed in the “colors” and daydreams in Ashbery’s poem. In Tennyson’s poem, the lady is cursed if she looks on the scene directly and can view Camelot only in her mirror, though “She knows not...
(The entire section is 575 words.)