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 

 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. 

Quotes: Search by Author