When problems arise, we do our best to solve them. In some cases, it’s something we’ve seen before, and we can apply a lesson to the matter learnt from a previous experience, revealing a solution. Other times, unfortunately, there’s not an answer, and while you can reflect on past events for aid and assistance, there’s nothing to draw from and nothing to help your current situation. Visiting Hour by Stewart Conn portrays this helplessness to its full capacity.
In the first stanza, there’s a simple problem and solution presented. The fish, ‘five orange stains’, are trapped in the pond ‘under inches of ice’. To solve this, ‘[they] broke the ice with a hammer’ and from underneath ‘the goldfish appear[ed]’. A hard, blunt object against a fragile thing is almost a primitive solution, so simple yet so effective. The imagery is well juxtaposed, too. ‘Orange stains’ become ‘blunt-nosed’ fish ‘delicately clear.’
The second stanza is in another time, where ‘so much has taken place to distance [then’ from what [they] were’. The subject is now bedridden, perhaps with injury or illness, and the narrator cannot find a solution. They can only ‘wish it were simply a matter / of smashing the ice and giving [them] air.’ The situation has become far more complicated, and the poet wishes things were easier.
One subtlety I love in this is how rhyme is used. The first stanza ends in a rhyming couplet, ‘appear’ / ‘clear’, as if a question has been given a response, an echo. But despite the same stanza length (both at eight lines) the rhyme is gone at the end of the second stanza, representing a call that has not been answered, signifying the unsolvable problems the poet is left with.
Why does Nesbit like this poem so much? Because it explores the human condition, ours illnesses, and problems that appear to us. If things were simple, life would be easy, and in many cases it is. Otherwise, like the poet, we can only dream of magical solutions to ease the suffering of loved ones. In one way or another, I feel as if everyone will experience this sort of contradiction, where drawing from previous experiences isn’t enough to fix the current problem. Conn describes the terrible burden of helplessness and does so with, ironically, a simple analogy that really, really works.
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Looking for more poetry analysis?
Nesbit Likes: Digging by Seamus Heaney
Between my finger and my thumb
The squat pen rests; snug as a gun.
Nesbit Likes: When I Have Fears That I May Cease To Be by John Keats
Of the wide world I stand alone, and think,
Till Love and Fame to nothingness do sink.
Nesbit Likes: For a Five-Year Old by Fleur Adcock
But that is how things are: I am your mother,
And we are kind to snails.
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