The poem is filled with examples of imagery, particularly when the speaker describes the woman’s appearance, and utilizes a surprising twist ending that’s sure to entertain readers. Williams’ contemporary verse is as shocking and humorous as it is thoughtful.
‘Toilet’ by Hugo Williams is a funny, short poem that describes a man who tries, and fails, to talk to a woman.
The poem describes a scene from a train ride and the speaker’s inability to actually speak to the woman he’s sitting across from. He imagines talking to her and what could go wrong and then gives up trying and instead indulges his imagination. The poet spends many lines on descriptions of this woman, conveying his speaker’s infatuation with her.
Structure and Form
‘Toilet’ by Hugo Williams is a four-stanza poem that is divided into sets of six lines, known as sestets. These sestets are written in free verse. This means that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or metrical pattern. But there are some very obvious examples of half rhyme, perfect rhyme, and exact. For example, “say,” and “way” in stanza one is a perfect rhyme, while the use of the word “hair” at the end of two lines of stanza two is an example of an exact rhyme (because the poet uses the same exact word).
In this poem, the poet makes use of a few literary devices. These include:
- Anaphora: the repetition of the same word or phrase at the beginning of multiple lines. For example, “I wonder will” which starts lines one and three.
- Juxtaposition: the intentional contrast between images or ideas. In this case, the poet’s speaker contrasts the coherent way he might talk to the woman across from him on the train and the more chaotic result if his mouth takes over as if it had a mind of its own.
- Imagery: the use of particularly effective descriptions. For example, “she runs her hand through her hair / so that it clings to the carriage cloth.”
I wonder will I speak to the girl
sitting opposite me on this train.
I wonder will my mouth open and say,
‘Are you going all the way
to Newcastle?’ or ‘Can I get you a coffee?’
Or will it simply go ‘aaaaah’
as if it had a mind of its own?
In the first stanza of ‘Toilet,’ the speaker begins by contemplating what it would be like to talk to a girl “opposite” him on the train. It’s clearly an overwhelming thought as the next few lines bring up a few different possible openers and express the speaker’s concern that he’s not going to be able to speak to her coherently.
He worries that his mouth will open and just go “aaaah” as if it had a mind of its own. This is an example of juxtaposition in which the speaker considers the very different ways the conversation might play out. This honest description of his self-conscious worries and shy nature is quite endearing while also being funny. The poem is meant to entertain the reader, especially by using such a relatable hook in the first few lines.
Half closing eggshell blue eyes,
she runs her hand through her hair
flies back and forth like an African fly-whisk,
making me feel dizzy.
This stanza starts out with a wonderful example of imagery. The poet uses a metaphor, comparing the woman’s eyes to “half closing eggshells” (because of the color of her skin). There is also a simile a few lines later where the speaker says that her hair is like “an African fly-whisk.” These images of beauty are so overwhelming to the speaker/the person seeing them play out that he starts to feel dizzy.
The speaker is entirely focused on the woman’s face and hair in these lines. He uses more words than are necessary to describe her, suggesting that he’s very taken with her appearance. The poet also chose to use alliteration in these lines to highlight particular things the speaker is seeing/experiencing. The speaker notes how the woman’s hair “clings to the carriage cloth.”
Suddenly, without warning,
and does so eagerly, without fuss.
In the third stanza, the poet’s speaker goes on to say that the woman noticed him looking at her and decided to tie her hair up, suddenly becoming self-conscious of her movements. He had “forgotten to look out / the window for a moment.” The speaker implies that he’d become so entranced with her movements, and particularly the texture of her hair, that he forgot how awkward it would be if she caught him looking at her.
There is a distinct transition between the fourth and fifth lines of the poem, indicated by the end-stopped fourth line. The moment of awkward staring disappears as the speaker is again focused on the woman’s movements. She takes a sip of coffee, something that should be a very mundane occurrence. But, for the speaker, it’s something much more. The poet uses an example of personification to describe how the coffee is “Granted permission” to pass between the woman’s lips. It’s allowed to get close to her in a way that the speaker feels he’d never be allowed.
A tunnel finds us looking out the window
and peeing all over my face.
In the final stanza, the train passes through a tunnel, removing the landscape outside the window and creating a clear reflection of what’s going on inside the train. When this happens, it becomes clear that the two are looking at one another “into one another’s eyes,” or at least that’s what the speaker sees. This look makes it clear to him that she likes him, as does the fact that right after this, she goes to the bathroom.
This change of circumstance inspires the speaker to imagine her in the bathroom taking “down her pants / and peeing all over [his] face.” This is a shocking and humorous conclusion to an interesting poem. It seems likely that the speaker is only imagining the woman’s infatuation with him. This image of her peeing on him is something he seems to want and that he’s only able to imagine because he can’t get up the courage to speak to her, much less start up this unusual, intimate encounter with her.
The meaning of this unique poem depends on the reader. One possible interpretation of the meaning is that it is easier to let one’s imagination run wild than face being rejected.
‘Toilet’ is a humorous, contemporary poem that’s written in four sestets or four sets of six lines. The poem is written in free verse as well, meaning that the poet did not use a specific rhyme scheme or meter.
Williams likely wrote this poem to entertain readers and speak about the challenges of breaking out of one’s shell. The persona he uses in this poem has a challenging time talking to a woman he finds attractive and instead leans on his imagination to envision how she’s feeling.
‘Toilet’ is about a man’s desire to talk to a woman he’s sitting across from on a train and his inability to actually follow through with it.
Readers who enjoyed this poem should also consider reading some related poems. For example:
- ‘Pad, Pad’ by Stevie Smith – a contemporary poem that uses animal imagery to convey the end of a relationship.
- ‘He would not stay for me, and who can wonder’ by A.E. Housman – explores themes of relationships and separation, along with unrequited love.
- ‘Appeal’ by Anne Brontë – a unique poem that expresses the speaker’s exhaustion regarding love and relationships.