Study Guide

In the Waiting Room Stanza 2

By Elizabeth Bishop

Stanza 2

Lines 54-63

I said to myself: three days
and you'll be seven years old.
I was saying it to stop
the sensation of falling off
the round, turning world
into cold, blue-black space.
But I felt: you are an
you are an
you are one of
Why should you be one, too?

  • We finally know the name of our speaker – Elizabeth – and how old she is at the time of the poem – almost seven. Since this poem is about a six-year-old, it's no wonder she's proud that she can read National Geographic. We have to remember, though, that the poem is told in the past tense. An older Elizabeth is narrating a past experience that happened when she was almost seven years old.
  • This is a pretty serious little girl. She feels like she's going to fall off the world, and that everything is spinning out of control. It's like she's on a roller coaster ride in outer space and she can't get off.
  • Then she tells herself that she is an "I." She reminds herself that she's an individual human being who is a complete person with agency, which means that she has the ability to control her life and her choices.
  • But she also realizes that she's an Elizabeth – and that little word "an" is really important. She's not the only Elizabeth – she's not, for example, "the Elizabeth." By using the word "an," she acknowledges that there are other people, and other Elizabeths, out there in the world beside herself. She's "one of them."
  • She asks herself, why should she be "one"? What separates herself from other human beings out there in the world?
  • Our little Elizabeth is having some pretty deep thoughts for a six-year-old. Just sayin'.

Lines 64-74

I scarcely dared to look
to see what it was I was.
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 the lamps.
I knew that nothing stranger
had ever happened, that nothing
stranger could ever happen.

  • Elizabeth looks around nervously to see if she can get more of an idea of who she is. Now that she's had the realization that she's part of other people – that she's a member of humanity in general – she wants to get a better idea of what humanity is like.
  • It sounds like Elizabeth is sitting on the floor, because as she looks up, all she sees is the clothing of the people around her. She wants to understand humanity, but she can only see parts of people. She sees their pants, their boots, their hands. She seems unable to mentally grasp an entire person.
  • This is the strangest thing that's ever happened to Elizabeth, but what has actually happened? Not much, really. Everything that's happened has only happened in her mind. Her imagination seems like a pretty crazy place to be.

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