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Visiting Hour/Memorial comparison

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David Terron

on 3 April 2016

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Transcript of Visiting Hour/Memorial comparison

Norman MacCaig
compare the the ideas and the language
Both poems focus on death and the poets feeling about it. 'Visiting Hour' about the possible death of his wife and 'Memorial' about his pain after the death of his sister. For example the 'fruitless fruits' that he leaves in the hospital at the end of 'Visiting Hour' tells us she is unlikely to recover and the opening of 'Memorial' with the repetition of 'Everywhere she dies' tells us very clearly the both poems are connected by the theme of death.
Both poems reveal the extreme sadness and pessimism of the the poet when faced with the loss of his wife and sister. The ending of 'Visiting Hour' is extremely pessimistic when he writes that he is 'leaving behind books that will not be read' because it suggests he has no hope for his wife's recovery. In 'Memorial' there is a reference to the fact that his sister 'can't stop dying' is also extremely negative and shows little hope of a happier life where he is unable to escape the pain of his bereavement.
Word Choice
some of the words MacCaig uses in both poems are the same. He effectively describes the difficulty of trying to share his wife and sisters experiences. in 'Visiting Hour' he is frustrated by the 'distance of pain' he is unable to cross, and in 'Memorial' he describes 'that intolerable distance' between himself and others who can not share his grief
Use of the colour 'black' in both poems to help create a negative uncomfortable atmosphere. In 'Visiting Hour' the poet describes himself as a 'black figure in a white cave' which shows he feels clumsy and out of place in the hospital setting, while in 'Memorial' he remembers the 'black words' which we might interpret as the bad news from the doctor about his sisters illness
Use of flower imagery in both poems to show the impact of his wife and sister's illness on him. In 'Visiting Hour' he describes his wife's fragile arm: 'a withered hand trembles on its stalk and in 'Memorial' he tells us 'no crocus is carved more gently than the way her dying shapes my mind'. Comparing both women to flowers emphasises their beauty and value to the poet
Both poems use imagery to convey the discomfort and disorientation of the poet as he tries to face the pain of loss. In 'Visiting Hour' he describes the 'swimming waves of a bell' which suggests he is out of control, almost drowning in his desire to get away from this frightening place. In 'Memorial' after his sister had died he cannot cope with all his visitors and their 'carousel of language'. A carousel goes round and round and this therefore an effective metaphor for describing his dizziness. He cannot join in on the chat with the visitors who surround him.
Other Similar Language Features
In both poems there are some elements of contradiction which help to show the poet's uncertainty. In 'Visiting Hour' we have the contradictory image of nurses who 'carry their burden of so much pain' but have 'eyes still clear after so many farewells'. In 'Memorial' we see a contradiction when he says that the doctor's words make the 'sound of soundlessness
Both written in present tense which is significant 'Visiting Hour' opens with the 'hospital smells combs my nostrils' and this helps to make the experience more immediate for us, It's as if his hospital visit is unfolding in front our eyes. In 'Memorial' the poem opens with 'Everywhere she dies' and the present tense here also makes an impact. It shows us that the poet is so overwhelmed by the loss of his sister that its as if it is happening right now.
The end of both poems are definitely similar. 'Visiting Hour' concludes with a reference to the 'fruitless fruits' that MacCaig left as a gift for his wife and this oxymoron cleverly reminds us to nourish patient, this fruit is fruitless i.e pointless, as it cannot help her now. The end of 'Memorial' is similarly negative in that the poet calls himself her 'sad music'. Normally we expect to be uplifting but he is beyond help. He is unconscionable with grief.
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