MacCaig realises that she can’t respond to him at all, she is isolated in her bubble of pain and suffering and neither of them can do anything to rupture the communication barrier that is separating them; they are worlds apart. The reader feels heartbroken because he is trying to reach out to her and it must be heart-wrenching for him to know that there is nothing he can do. Once he enters the ward, he sees his relative lying vulnerably in a hospital bed: “She lies in a white cave of forgetfulness”.
A vivid image is illustrated in this metaphor of a single, isolated bed, cut off from the ward around by a white curtain similar to a cave in a cliff. It presents the reader with the notion that she is alone in the world; in a coma incapable of communicating with anyone. In stanza 5, the narrator notices the tubes connected to her: “Into an arm wasted of colour a glass fang is fixed, not guzzling but giving”. The image formed here is of a bright-eyed; crazed vampire roughly feeding on pale skinned prey. He feels as if the needles are adding to her suffering and not helping her in any way. The choices of words such as “guzzling” make the reader cringe as they conjure up obscene images. Again through his negative word-choice, the narrator’s discomfort is made clear.
Nearing the end of the poem, MacCaig absconds with his emotions running wild: “Who clumsily rises in the round swimming waves of a bell”. This line holds deeps connotations of the sea, salt water and tears; implying that his vision is blurred because of the tears built up in his eyes. All of his thoughts and feelings are making him dizzy and he can’t manage it, as if he is drowning in his sorrow. He has lost all self control, which is why he “clumsily rises” and leaves the ward.
The use of oxymoron in: “Leaving behind only books that will not be read and fruitless fruits” makes clear how he feels that the entire visit has been of no benefit to him or her; her condition is beyond his reach. He explains that the books will not be read because she is heading for death and the fruits are “fruitless” because they will too be of no use to her, she can’t consume them; defeating their purpose. He departs feeling saddened that his presence was making no difference to the path she was heading towards.
Overall, “Visiting Hour” is extremely emotional and moving as MacCaig uses effective techniques to convey his feelings to us and it makes the reader more aware of overpowering feelings which people sometimes feel they have to hide. As I have visited a sick relative, I can relate to the whole experience and the feelings conveyed. We can imagine the scenes vividly through the narrator’ eyes due to his focus on senses; sight and smell and the unusual, sophisticated metaphors give us a strong picture of how ill his relative is. MacCaig demonstrates an exceptional poem in which he bares his feelings and his ingeniously written piece has left a long-lasting impression on me.