In Hospital, William Ernest Henley's poem about the experience of a hospital patient, gives a detailed view of many daily occurrences in such an uninviting and gloomy environment. In the very first poem, the reader is introduced to the "grey, quiet, old" hospital building "where Life and Death like friendly chafferers meet." In the first few lines of the poem, the reader does not know if the narrator will be a patient or if he is simply going to visit someone. With the revelation in line 9 that the speaker has a limp, it is made clear that the he is in fact a patient. The speaker's tone becomes more depressed as the poem progresses and this sense of gloom is augmented by the fact that the reader does not know how long the patient will have to stay in the hospital or even what his exact ailment is. In poem 6, the narrator relates information about "dull, new pain that grinds my leg and foot," which gives the reader a clue about what the speaker has experienced, although ! this information is still far from conclusive.

In the following poems, Henley includes profiles of colorful characters whom the speaker meets in the hospital, including nurses and fellow patients. Throughout this part of the poem, the speaker's tone seems detached from what is happening and what he is seeing. It is as though the narrator is merely a fly on the wall with no emotional attachment to the death and recovery that occurs in the hospital. It is not until the final poem, that the speaker displays any signs of passion and excitement. Finally the detachment presented in the previous poems is eliminated and the speaker excitedly describes the jubilation felt at being discharged from the dismal, prison-like hospital:

Carry me out
Into the wind and the sunshine,
Into the beautiful world.
O, the wonder, the spell of the streets
The stature and strength of the horses
The rustle and echo of footfalls,
The flat roar and rattle of wheels!
A swift tram floats huge on us . . .
It's a dream?
The smell of the mud in my nostrils
Blows brave — like a breath of the sea!
Free . . .!
Dizzy, hysterical, faint,
I sit, and the carriage rolls on with me
Into the wonderful world.

Questions

1. What is the significance and effect of learning more about the other people in the hospital than the reader learns about the actual speaker?

2. Is the speaker's detachment a way of dealing with such a horrible situation or an expression of the extent of the depression that a patient can fall into?

3. Who is the "Shorter-Catechist" that the speaker is reminded of in poem 25?


W. E. Henley Leading Questions

Last modified 4 December 2003