The Hospital Window
The death of a loved one can put unimaginable stress on the loved ones of the deceased. This stress can make one's life chaotic and unpleasant for long periods of time if the mourners do not understand the death. James Dickey, who believes, "poetry is the center of the creative wheel," wrote the poem, "The Hospital Window". The relationship between mourners and death becomes apparent in this "simple 54-line poem . . . about a parent's dying as a transformative experience, and the possibility that love conquers fear." The poem takes place on a city street adjacent to a large hospital. In "The Hospital Window", Dickey uses images which represent life and death to demonstrate that the death of a loved one can make one enter a surrealistic state, in which everyday occurrences appear to be heavenly; however, if one can overcome the death by understanding it, he can then return to a peaceful life. In the beginning of the poem, the images which distinguish life and death show that the speaker perceives normal events as spiritual after leaving his father's hospital room. Dickey's persona enters this state when he is on the hospital elevator. As the elevator brings him down to ground level, he remembers his father lying in his room above "in a blue light."(3) According to Gertrude Jobes, the color blue represents heaven and God. Therefore, its shining down on the speaker's father represents God's presence with his father. For any other observer, the light is obviously "shed by a tinted window,"(4) but the speaker's state of mind leads him to believe that the light shines from heaven. Once outside, the speaker turns to face the hospital. As he turns, he sees that "[each] window possesses the sun / As though it burned there on a wick."(13) To Jobes, the sun represents life. A candle wick burns for only a certain period of time, and then dies out. Therefore, the speaker believes that the reflection of the sun in the windows is actually his father's life. When the speaker reaches out to the sun, and "[waves], like a man catching fire,"(15) he tries to grab his father's life back. At that moment, the glare from the sun reflects in a certain way, making "all the deep-dyed windowpanes flash."(16) This flash, in the speaker's mind, is God reaching out for the father's soul. Also, the flash mocks the speaker's attempts at grabbing his father's life from the grips of death. Furthermore, the speaker visualizes God's presence by "all the white rooms / [turning] the color of Heaven."(18) To the speaker, the heavenly white color of the rooms represents purity and innocence, as described in Jobes, while others see merely white rooms. As the speaker studies the windows, he sees that all reflect "flames"(21), or the candles of the living still burning. It is then he realizes that his father's window is different. It reflects "the bright, erased blankness of nothing."(23) The flickering light visible in all of the other rooms is not visible in his father's room because he is dead. Once the speaker realizes his father is dead, he can start to overcome the death. In the middle of the poem, images representing life and death show how the speaker overcomes his father's death. After experiencing the madness of death, the speaker transitions from not believing in the death to realizing that his father is leaving him. First, the speaker realizes that his father's body remains in his room "[in] the shape of his death still living"(25). Death still living represents the father's dead body, with the soul still alive within. This thought causes a madness within the speaker because he realizes that his father's soul, oreverything he was, may remain within the corpse forever. Eventually, his father's soul "lifts [its] arms out of stillness at last"(31), causing the speaker to realize that his father's soul is leaving the body. The speaker "[turns] as blue as a soul / As the moment when I was born"(33-34) from the realization that his father will live on with him forever. This realization holds true because his father gave him life, so therefore his father will live on in his life. Additionally, the speaker realizes that he is "not afraid for [his] father,"(35) for he knows his father will live eternally in heaven as well as inside of him. On the same note, his father "is grinning; he is not / Afraid for [the speaker's] life, either."(36-37) The grin shows that the speaker realizes his father is pleased with the way he raised him; thus, his father is not worried about the paths his son will choose. Conclusively, by overcoming his father's death, the speaker begins to shift back into a peaceful life. In the ending stanzas, Dickey uses images demonstrating life and death to show that the speaker returns to a peaceful life. In the process of shifting back into his everyday life, the speaker becomes proud of his father, hoping that "the dying may float without fear / in the bold blue gaze of [his] father."(43-44) This thought by the speaker shows how he want the other souls to act like his father, and migrate toward heaven unafraid. His proudness not only allows him to be at peace with himself, but also to think positively of his father. The speaker does not completely exit his delusional state until starts to feel his "pin-tingling hand half dead."(46) His hand fell asleep in the time which he held it up toward his father. He stares at his hand "in amazement,"(48) wondering why it is asleep. This amazement demonstrates that the speaker does not clearly remember his previous state of mind. By not remembering it, he can more easily return to a peaceful life. Finally, the speaker comprehends that his father looks down upon him from heaven through the "created hue of stained glass, "(52) or the separation of the worlds of heaven and earth. The speaker then proceeds to realize how valuable the part of his father that lives on with him is. At this point, the speaker has "just come down from [his] father," meaning that he has surpassed the sadness of his father's death. In conclusion, the speaker returns to a peaceful life. "The Hospital Window" demonstrates the method in which is necessary to overcome a death. The surrealistic state one enters when a death occurs can become very confusing. The mourner's life becomes peaceful again only when the mourner understands the death. This reaction to death is common throughout society, especially because the world stops for no one, causing uncomparable stress on the mourner. When the death involves a direct family member, the reaction can be worse. As in the poem, one must overcome the death as quickly as possible so that he does not cause harmful stress to himself. The understanding of the death is also important; in most cases, it is the only way one can overcome death.