There are twenty-seven poems written about the hospital in this work, and I would have expected some repetition of sentiment, or some place where Henley stops moving forward with each poem, yet it seemed that each poem was fashioned with its own character in mind, with special attention to the scene that was to be attended in each. In "Operation," one of the devices that most carried the weight of description of this scene, was the meter. Each line has four feet, each usually trochee. I though this meter was good for aiding in the expression of several things throughout the poem:

Then they bid you close your eyelids,
And they mask you with a napkin,
And the an~sthetic reaches
Hot and subtle through your being. [lines 5-8]

Here at the beginning of the poem, there is a sort of excited frenzy to which the meter contributes. Do these lines reveal anything about the agency of the speaker that might contribute to a sense of constant unknown? What about the action that is taking place?

Henley, here, places the “and” in a position where it gets more stress since it’s surrounded by strong trochees, what does this seem to contribute to the feeling of bewilderment and fear the speaker seems to be expressing?

On the other hand, almost as if looking from a point of view outside of the speaker- he meter is very straight, yet with a fair amount of authority behind it, and is regulated by the words “and” and “they”, in a very formulaic fashion. Can this stanza be said to convey an impersonal feeling, where the actions taking place are all very simple, as there is no personal harm to be done?

I found these poems to be on the whole very personal: they are create a very intimate place between the speaker and the reader. What words in this particular stanza help create this feeling of intimate story-telling?

And you gasp and reel and shudder
In a rushing, swaying rapture,
While the voices at your elbow
Fade — receding — fainter — farther. [lines 9-12]

Here, the speaker comes into his own action. Now it seems as if there are two sides of a back-and-forth conflict. Here how does “and” function to maintain a single level of force, while the actual antagonist at this point, which could be said to be the anesthesia, is absent?

What happens at the last line of the stanza? Does the meter change? What do you make of the slower tempo- what does this indicate about the effectiveness of the speaker’s fight? The focus of this device might change once again, by the last stanza...

Till a sudden lull accepts you,
And you sound an utter darkness . . .
And awaken . . . with a struggle . . .
On a hushed, attentive audience. [lines 21-24]

Questions

Who is the protagonist, antagonist, here? Does the speaker have agency? Have the speaker’s goals changed at all over the course of this ordeal, if so, why?

It seems as if the speaker wakes up with the same slowness as he fell under the spell of the anesthetic. It seemed as if that change in tempo signalled a defeat. Why might this be the case; what is the effect of such a move on the poem?

The meter doesn’t ever really change drastically from the control of the trochee, even to the last line awaking to the audience — which is a word that seems to indicate some sort of obligatory performance — what effect does this have on the speaker’s successes and losses over the course of the operation?


W. E. Henley Leading Questions

Last modified 3 December 2003