‘The Hospital’ by Patrick Kavanagh is a fourteen-line sonnet that is divided into one set of eight lines and another set of six. The lines follow the pattern traditionally associated with Petrarchan or Italian sonnets. They are separated into one octet, or set of eight lines, and another sestet, or set of six. The octet can be further separated into two quatrains, or sets of four lines.
In Petrarchan sonnets, the octet always follows a very specific rhyme scheme of ABBABBA. “The Hospital’ conforms to this pattern and in the sestet, remains within the realm of normal schemes associated with this kind of sonnet. These six lines rhyme CDECED. In regards to the meter, the lines do not stick to iambic pentameter, the most commonly used rhythmic pattern in sonnets. They vary from fourteen to ten syllables per line and are not arranged in any particular way.
A reader should also always look for the “turn” or “volta” within a sonnet. In Shakespearean sonnets, this turn arrives at the concluding couplet, but in Petrarchan it comes between the octet and the sestet. In the case of ‘The Hospital’ an argument could be made for both. As soon as the sestet begins the speaker gets more detailed about the power of love and how it applies to the hospital. Then, the final two lines (which are not a rhyming couplet) summarize the speaker’s beliefs (a common Shakespearean practice).
Another poetic technique that is present within the text is anaphora. This is a kind of repetition in which a phrase or word is repeated at the beginning of multiple lines. In the case of ‘The Hospital’ Kavanagh starts four of the fourteen lines with “The” and in both instances, the lines come in pairs.
Summary of The Hospital
The poem begins with the speaker stating that he fell in love with a hospital. This place does not appear to be very loveable at first. It is made of concrete and just as dreary as all hospitals usually appear. This changes though as the poem progresses and the speaker adds details.
He brings a few spots within the building to the reader’s attention. But most importantly he makes an argument for loving and respecting the mundane, or the everyday. The poem concludes with the speaker telling the reader and his listeners that they must take note of all the love in the world, in order to absorb it in the transitory world we live in.
You can read the full poem here.
Analysis of The Hospital
In the first four lines of this piece the speaker begins by giving a very odd piece of information about himself. He states that a “year ago” he,
[…] fell in love with the functional ward
Of a chest hospital:
The strangeness of this opening line is enough to make a reader want to know more about the speaker, the hospital and what kind of love he is referring to. He goes on to give a few more details about the hospital he cares so deeply for. Its focus is of course on the chest and heart conditions. There are “square cubicles” in the building and they’re plain. They are made of concrete and contain simple wash basins.
So far, there doesn’t seem to be much to love about this place. In fact, the speaker describes the concrete cubicles as “an art lover’s woe.” Everything about the place seems set to stymy one’s creative impulses. An artists would be miserable there.
The fourth line of ‘The Hospital’ mentions how there was a “fellow in the next bed” who was a persistent snorer. This is the only thing that is interesting so far.
In the next four lines, the speaker returns to the idea of love and how it is present within this plain place. Despite the fact everything the speaker has revealed about the hospital so far, there is nothing that should keep one from finding a reason to love it. It “debars” nothing. He goes on to state that any heart, including the “common and banal” can see and find love in the most mundane of places.
The next two lines give a hint of a deeper sense of magic and joy the speaker takes from the building. There is one corridor in particular he appreciates. It,
[…] led to a stairway and below
Was the inexhaustible adventure of a gravelled yard.
His mind transforms what he sees, casts his own dreams, imaginings, and emotions on to the sad, dreary structure. Now, he is able to look at the stairway and know it as the passageway to “adventure.” When one is able to use it, exit the interior of the hospital, and venture out into the “gravelled yard” everything does surely seem magical.
It is in line nine that Kavanagh puts the “turn” or “volta” of the text. As stated in the introduction, a turn is when some substantial change is made to the narration, setting, or emotion of the text. In this case, the speaker takes a larger view of the power of love. He zooms back and speaks on “what loves does to things.”
The first “thing” that he mentions is “the Rialto Bridge” in Venice. It is widely considered to be one of the most romantic, love-filled spots in the city, but it is made of materials just as the hospital is. Why should one place engender passion and not another?
The next lines refer to parts of the hospital that the speaker sees in a joyful and loving light. There is the “main gate” that holds a specific history. It was “bent by a heavy lorry.” additionally, he takes note of a particular seat in the,
[..] back of a shed that was a sun trap
Naming these things the love-act and its pledge;
This is a place the speaker recalls as an especially peaceful one. When he names and calls out these places as being filled with love, that makes it true. It is important to “name” and participates in the loving of things.
In the last two lines, the poem makes another transition, this time into a conclusion. This could be considered a second “turn” or “volta.” The speaker states that “we” as in the human race, especially those listening to, or reading, the poem, must take the time to “record” the presence of love in the world. Its “mystery” is important to preserve. If “we” can do so, then we will be able to keep some of the transitory joy that comes in everyday, common encounters.