Study Guide

In the Waiting Room Youth

By Elizabeth Bishop


The waiting room was full
of grown-up people. (7-8)

Here Elizabeth makes a distinction between herself and the other people in the waiting room. They're "grown-ups"; she's definitely not one of them.

and while I waited I read
the National Geographic
(I could read) (13-15)

Elizabeth sounds like a smarty-pants here. She's not even seven years old and she can already read a magazine for adults. She seems pretty proud of this.

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old. (54-55)

She reminds herself of her age here as if to calm her crazy thoughts. It's like she's saying, I'm too young for such big ideas!

I gave a sidelong glance
—I couldn't look any higher—
at shadowy gray knees,
trousers and skirts and boots
and different pairs of hands
lying under lamps. (66-71)

From this comment, it sounds like Elizabeth is sitting on the floor, and looking up at the adults in the waiting room. It makes a pretty clear distinction between herself and them. She can't see their whole bodies – she's stuck looking at their knees and their clothing just above her eye level.

What similarities—
boots, hands, the family voice
I felt in my throat, or even
the National Geographic
and those awful hanging breasts—
held us all together
or made us all just one? (77-83)

Elizabeth tries to figure out the connection between herself and the adults in the poem. What does she have in common with Aunt Consuelo, with the women in the magazine, and with the adult patients in the waiting room? What keeps them apart?

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