In the Waiting Room
by Elizabeth Bishop
Stanza 5 Summary
Get out the microscope, because we’re going through this poem line-by-line.
Then I was back in it.
The War was on. Outside,
in Worcester, Massachusetts,
were night and slush and cold,
and it was still the fifth
of February, 1918.
- Elizabeth snaps out of her dark imagination once again. She remembers the details of her location, the weather, and the date. Perhaps most interestingly, she remembers that "the War was on."
- This is the first and only reference to the "War," which, we know from the date, was World War I. Helpful hint: at the time, people referred to it as "the Great War," not "World War I." Why? Well, there hadn't been a "World War II" yet.
- What does the war have to do with this poem? Let's run through the facts: this is a poem about a confused little girl who is scared of the world out there. She wonders about her place in humanity, and can't stop thinking about what her connections are with other people. She's interested in what the grown-ups are like, but she seems afraid of them at the same time. She is both one of them and not one of them. She's both a kid, and a future adult. We might see the war as a reminder of the differences between children and grown-ups. We could see it as a comment on the future that lies ahead of Elizabeth, or even as a symbol of how terrible our world has become – we kill each other over our differences.
- The poem ends on this dark note of war. What the war means is open to interpretation, but it definitely makes us reflect back on the rest of the poem. Is this a poem about identity, growing up, humanity, war, or the scariness of the dentist? The answer, of course, is that it's about all these things. And is there hope? Hmm. We're really not sure.
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