Discussion Topic

The unusual and effective nature of the title of Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" and its relation to the poem's contents

Summary:

The title of Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" is unusual and effective because it directly addresses the emotional impact on the doctor, framing the poem's focus on empathy and shared suffering. It sets a somber tone and prepares readers for a narrative that explores the profound emotional consequences of traumatic events.

Expert Answers

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

What makes the title of the poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" unusual and effective?

The poem's title is unusual is being longer than the average poem title and more prosaic than poetic. In other words, it reads like the first line of a letter. It is informative rather than filled with images, although "raped baby" is an image. The words "raped baby" have a shock value that might normally be left out of a poem's title and saved to show up later. (This being said, it's important to note that these are generalities and that poems have a very wide variety of titles and formats.)

The title is effective in the context of the poem's contents because the body of the poem shows ways ordinary people care for babies and young children, sometimes sacrificing their own comfort to do so: the old man with thin legs walking the floor with a crying baby a night, women nursing babies, people reading young children stories or leaving a night light on for them. These stories contrast with the horror of the rape the doctor must treat and are an antidote to the "despair" he feels. However, the title could also lead one to expect a much darker poem and perhaps not even want to read it, because the words "raped baby" are so intensely powerful and disturbing. 

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What makes the title of the poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" unusual and effective?

The title of the poem, "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" by Finuala Dowling, is unusual because it is a direct address. The title indicates the narrator will be speaking to the physician who treated the abused child, and acknowledging his/her feelings. In addition, the title lacks the accepted use of capitalization for a piece of poetry by solely using an upper case letter for the first word.

The use of the title as a direct address to the doctor is appropriate for the contents of the poem. The words are spoken on behalf of those who were able to sleep that night without a thought of such gruesome atrocities. The author creates a dichotomy in the poem by alternating between describing the medical care the doctor provides for the child’s horrific wounds, and explaining how other children are nurtured by caring adults.

Although the poem alludes to a larger social problem, it is written as a personal acknowledgement. Once again, in the last lines of the poem, the narrator speaks directly to the doctor.

And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust

that you would do what you did,

that you could do what you did.

We slept in trust that you lived.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What makes the title of the poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" unusual and effective?

The title of this poem is unusual because of its subject matter. We all know that sexual crimes are among the worst crimes that can be perpetrated on any human being, but our sensibilities are further aroused when a defenseless infant is subjected to such horrific abuse. The title is both shocking and poignant.

The title is also unusual because the poet, Finuala Dowling, is addressing her poem to an anonymous doctor; this leaves us with several questions that are not answered by the content of the poem. We are led to ponder the intentions of the poet in choosing the title and content of her poem:

1) Who is this doctor? Is Dowling writing about a fictional or real medical emergency? By implication, is the rape fiction or did it really happen?

2) Is the doctor successful in saving the life of the infant?

3) Is tending to a brutalized infant a common experience in this doctor's line of work?

The word "despair" in the title highlights the doctor's efforts in saving the baby's life. It also describes the doctor's emotional state in reference to the operation; her sense of helplessness is evident in her anguished cry for providential intervention.

and when finally you stood exhausted at the end of her cot
and asked, “Where is God?”

So, yes, the title of the poem is effective because it draws the reader's attention to the doctor's humanity and to the execrable crime against an innocent and defenseless baby. Above all else, the title challenges us to ponder the contradictions of life as we read the poem itself.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

What makes the title of the poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" unusual and effective?

The title of the poem is unusual in that it is relatively long in relation to the short, terse titles of many poems. Also, this title is unusual in that it is conveyed almost as how one would start a letter to someone to give them a message or an opinion. In addition, this title has a matter-of-fact quality to it – just a straight forward statement from the narrator who wants to let this doctor know his or her thoughts and appreciation for all that this doctor did in this very difficult circumstance.

This doctor had to – with professionalism – treat a baby who has been horribly raped. This doctor must save this bleeding baby girl’s life. The doctor must battle emotions and outrage while performing lifesaving duties. This is very difficult to do in this case because of the senselessness of the act on an innocent baby.

The doctor must suppress his emotions to ensure proper, immediate, successful medical action is taken. The title is very conversational and even a touch dry sounding against the intense backdrop of medical professionals trying to save a life. This contrast lends to the unusualness of this title in this poem by Finuala Dowling.

I believe that this title is effective in relation to the poem's contents. The title’s simplicity, but no holds barred choice of words (e.g. “who treated the raped baby”) immediately draws the reader into the poem. The reader wants to know more about this baby and if it has a chance to survive this horrible ordeal. The reader also wants to know how this affected the doctor who “felt such despair.” The reader also wants to know what the narrator of the poem thinks about all of this. Therefore, the effectiveness of the title is that it creates tension and the reader must address this tension by delving further into this intense poem.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the title of Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" relate to its contents and why is it unusual?

The title of the poem “To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair” by Finuala Dowling is unusual in that it is a direct address to the physician who treats the child in the poem. It not only acknowledges the doctor’s emotions; it dedicates the poem to the physician.  Visually, the title is unusual due to its stylistic lack of capitalization.

The narrator gives the reader an understanding of the poem’s contents with the title. The juxtaposition of the horror of the injured child’s condition with experiences of children who are well cared for by family members unfolds throughout the poem. The poet uses the title as a direct address to the doctor who is available to treat the child while the rest of the world sleeps trusting in his/her ability to address the problem of child rape. While the doctor questions the presence of God, the narrator informs the doctor that her presence is what brings peace to others.

And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust
that you would do what you did,
that you could do what you did.
We slept in trust that you lived.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the title of Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" relate to its contents and why is it unusual?

Finuala Dowling's poem "To the Doctor Who Treated the Raped Baby and Who Felt Such Despair" is quite unusually titled! First of all, the title is long—especially for a piece which is so short by comparison. There are thirteen words in the title and it is physically longer on the page than any of the lines in the poem. For readers, this makes a visual impact about the importance of the title. Another reason the title stands out is the graphic nature. Not only does the phrase "Raped Baby" produce an extremely negative reation, but the title also references despair. The title holds key phrases to immediately alert readers to the abhorrent subject matter referenced in the work. Another note of interest concerning the word choice it that the word "rape" never occurs in the body of the poem, only the title. This creates a relationship between the title and the poem wherein each is strengthened in meaning by the other. The poem begins: 

I just want to say on behalf of us all / that on the night in question / there was a light on in the hall / for a nervous little sleeper (lines 1-4)

Because the title made clear what the issue at hand was, readers already understand the reference before going any further into the work. In fact, without the title, the injuries and treatments described in the poem might be interpreted as a variety of events.

Dowling, Finuala. "To the Doctor who Treated the Raped Baby and Who Felt Such Despair." Poetry International, 2004.  

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How can you analyze the poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" by Finuala Dowling?

The poem in question is written by Finuala Dowling, a South African poet. Let's take a look at it.

From the beginning, we see that this poem describes a dichotomy of opposites; throughout the poem, the suffering endured by an infant who has been raped is juxtaposed against statements about the normal lives of other infants and children. As the doctor tends to the pitiful specimen before her, someone, somewhere, has left the light on for a 'nervous little sleeper.' Yet 'faraway, a Karoo shepherd crooned a ramkietjie lullaby in the veld.' The veld in South Africa is equivalent to the pampas in South America: both are fertile, low-level plains, often covered in grass. The Karoo in South Africa is a wide expanse of land which includes impressive mountain ranges and national parks. Life continues on the plains of South Africa despite the results of horrific brutality that the doctor encounters in the hospital. Normalcy is juxtaposed against aberration.

As the poem continues, the doctor works to staunch the flow of blood from the suffering infant and to administer an infant-sized dose of opiates or painkillers. While she concentrates on her grim task, a young 'night walker' somewhere else is comforted when he/she is able to bask in 'mother-warmed sheets,' secure in the knowledge that all is well. Yet in another venue, there are 'luxuriant dark nipples/for fist clenching babes.' Dowling juxtaposes scenes of normalcy with the horrific imagery of an infant fighting for her life after a brutal rape. Bolded words below are mine:

when you called for more blood (the baby has lost much blood)
a bleary-eyed uncle got up to make a feed ( somewhere else, an uncle has woken up to feed his baby niece or nephew)
and while you stitched (the implication is that the doctor is stitching up torn skin sustained from the rape).
there was another chapter of a favorite story ( in another venue, one more story is read to a child from his/her favorite book)
and while you cleaned (the doctor cleans up after surgery)
a grandpa’s thin legs walked up and down for a colicky crier (elsewhere, a grandfather tries to calm a colicky baby)
and when finally you stood exhausted at the end of her cot
and asked, “Where is God?”,
a father sat watch (this father sits watch over an infant. By all indications everything seems normal; the father's watchfulness over his infant is not the sort of anguished laboring the doctor displays over the brutalized infant).

The last few lines are indicative of the grateful trust we place in doctors who can and will labor to do what many of us cannot: to save a life in the most desperate of circumstances. The poet maintains that we are all thankful that we can sleep well, trusting that such doctors exist.

And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust
that you would do what you did,
that you could do what you did.
We slept in trust that you lived.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

How does the title of Finuala Dowling's poem "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair" relate to its contents and why is it unusual?

Finuala Dowling creates a dichotomy in her poem “To the doctor who treated the raped baby and felt such despair.” The narrator addresses the words directly to the doctor. There is a contrast between the situation the doctor faces while treating the abused child, and instances in which children are treated with kindness and compassion. “On the night in question,” a doctor is called in to treat a baby who is the victim of rape. The doctor stops the child’s bleeding, administers pain killers, stiches the wounds, and cries out for an understanding God.

While he does this, other children experience a warm bed, a sweet lullaby, a grandfather who walks a crying baby, and a loving mother who nurses her child. The comparisons are troubling. How can there be such a discrepancy in experiences? Yet, is there really a difference? The doctor does everything in his power to make the injured child whole again, which is what the child needs at that moment. All of the other caregivers do the same. That question is answered at the end of the poem when the narrator tells the doctor,

And for the rest of us, we all slept in trust

that you would do what you did,

that you could do what you did.

We slept in trust that you lived.

None of the others could do what the doctor did. They were able to rest knowing someone else was dealing with the difficult situation of child abuse.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the poem, "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair," by Finuala Dowling, what is the speaker trying to do and how is this achieved? Discuss specific instances in the poem to support your answer.

In the poem, "To the doctor..." by Finuala Dowling, the speaker is trying to tell the story of an injured baby being treated by a doctor. The family is gathered around and the speaker tells of how the doctor comes in and cares for this small child who was raped. The details of the poem of administering "infant-sized opiates" and stitching and cleaning refer to the doctor's physical care of the child. The voice of the speaker, however, is particularly compelling. He or she speaks in first person (I) and refers to an audience (you) and there is something defensive or expressive in the town. The speaker says "I want to say to you all" as if trying to make very clear the events that have occurred and how they feel about them. When the poem comes to a close and the speaker explains how they slept in trust, this refers to their trust that the doctor would care for the injured child. 

Therefore, the speaker attempts to show support for the doctor, who may have had a difficult time treating the child, even feeling despair. The family appreciated what he or she could do for the child and trusted him, even in their sleep.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the poem, "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair," by Finuala Dowling, what is the speaker trying to do and how is this achieved? Discuss specific instances in the poem to support your answer.

Finuala Dowling is a South African poet who read a news article about a doctor’s reaction to treating a raped baby, and felt compelled to write about it. Her poem “To the doctor who treated the raped baby and felt such despair” is her reaction to that incident.

In the poem the author speaks directly, and gratefully to a doctor who treats a baby who is the victim of a horrific crime. She thanks the physician for his attempt to save the child.

I wrote as if I were speaking to the doctor in the first instance, but then also to all men who might be feeling ashamed to be men, to all parents, all South Africans.

In order to do this, she creates a dichotomy in the poem by describing how the doctor tends to the baby’s wounds in one line, while in other lines she details how, in more acceptable settings, children are being treated with love. The doctor stitches wounds at the hospital, while in a home, a baby is lovingly nursed to sleep. For each action the doctor takes to care for the child, a responsible adult provides the proper care to another baby.

that on the night in question

there was a light on in the hall

for a nervous little sleeper

and when the bleeding baby was admitted to your care

faraway a Karoo shepherd crooned a ramkietjie lullaby in the veld

In the final stanza, the doctor asks if a God exists because he is so distraught about the child’s ordeal. Yet, the speaker thanks the doctor, not only on her own behalf, but on behalf of society. She feels society can rest easy because people like the doctor will tend to something so wrong that it affects the speaker to her core.

Last Updated on
An illustration of the letter 'A' in a speech bubbles

In the poem, "To the doctor who treated the raped baby and who felt such despair," by Finuala Dowling, what is the speaker trying to do and how is this achieved? Discuss specific instances in the poem to support your answer.

In Dowling’s sad and disturbing poem, she uses the heinous crime of raping a child to juxtapose how a child should be loved and cared for. Dowling plays with the opposite of tenderness vs. violence in her descriptions.  The poem’s lines are structured to show this opposition with the kindness of patient, loving parents being compared to the required doctoring of a bloody baby who has been violently raped. Each set of lines sets a different and opposite scene.  For example, as the baby is admitted to the hospital in line five, faraway a Karoo shepherd is singing a lullaby to a baby unable to go to sleep.  In addition, in line 15 while the doctor stitched up the baby’s wounds, a parent somewhere was reading another story to a child. These poetic scenes skip back and forth throughout the entire poem showing what is normal in childhood in opposition to the horrors of unimaginable violence.

This structure shows the two extremes between love and hate, safety and fear, and kindness and brutality.  From this structure, Dowling presents a theme that emphasizes the difference between the doctor’s compassion and a parent’s unwavering love, to a violent crime that no one should endure. 

See eNotes Ad-Free

Start your 48-hour free trial to get access to more than 30,000 additional guides and more than 350,000 Homework Help questions answered by our experts.

Get 48 Hours Free Access
Last Updated on