Mutlu Konuk Blasing: On "In the Waiting Room"

"In the Waiting Room," then, properly tells or narrates the "growth of a poet's mind." The poet originates in the recognition of her separation from, and identity with, her world, at once finding and losing her "self." Her birth or awakening comes with a scream from inside the dentist's office that is also the voice of the child in the waiting room, since "inside" says "either." When the child produces her explanation, she is a poet:

How—I didn't know any word for it—how "unlikely" . . . 

To explain an identity in nature, she finds the word "unlikely"; the perception of sameness is unlikely, because it is more than a likeness or likely. If all accounts of phenomena are likely stories only, the breach that gives birth to the poet is an origin that both is and is unlikely. This is also the breach of metaphor—unlikely identities. The scream, which is not "like" the child's voice but is hers all the same, signals a birth into natural identity and an unlikely language. For one's identity, one's sameness with and difference from others and objects, comes to be adequately revealed in the unlikely likenesses of metaphoric language. If there is an "inside" or a primal source that is glimpsed in the child's vertiginous insight, it is covered up or "framed" by the conspiracy of common sense, "objective" facts, and grammar—of nature and poetry: "You are an I, / you are anElizabeth, / You are one of them." And the source disclosed in the grammatical cleavage of "you are an I" is not a luminous star but nothingness itself, "cold, blue-black space," split by a cry—"an oh! of pain"—that might have been ours.


James E. Breslin: On "Spring and All"

This poem does not simply describe the physical qualities in a landscape; its center is an act of perception, "the stark dignity of / entrance," the slow penetration of a desolate landscape by an awakening observer. We follow the thrust of his imagination downward, through obstacles, to a new union with the physical environment. The progression in the poem is literally downward: the observer goes from "the blue / mottled clouds," across a distant view of "broad, muddy fields," to the quickening plant life right before him--and then penetrates even further downward, into the dark earth, as he imagines the roots taking hold again. The panoramic view, with its prospect of "muddy fields," dried weeds, "patches of standing water," offers nothing with which the imagination might joyously connect itself. At first an apparently blank and "lifeless" nature invites the observer to passivity and despair; but Williams pushes through vacancy to uncover dormant life.

Implicitly, "By the road" argues that Eliot's despair derives from his cosmopolitanism, his detachment from a locality. What the tenacious observer here finally perceives is no "waste" land but a "new world" and he makes his discovery by narrowing and focusing Whitman's panoramic vision upon the near and the ordinary. In the torpor of ordinary consciousness, what we find by the road to the contagious hospital is a desolate landscape. But the awakened consciousness, focused sharply and including everything in the scene, discovers novelty and life, the first "sluggish / dazed" stirrings of spring. Hence poet and landscape are gradually identified--as he too grips down and begins to awaken.