I have been thinking a lot about form and its link to meaning recently especially because it is potentially one of the main focuses of my final argumentative paper. As I was reading Elizabeth Bishop’s “In the Waiting Room,” I noticed that the poem is written in free verse with no set rhyme scheme or meter and as a result, the stanzas are not of equal length. In fact, the stanzas tend to have fewer and fewer lines as the poem progresses.
I struggled with this because the shorter stanzas are where Elizabeth asks all of her questions, and I hoped that she would provide some explanation to resolve her questions. Her first question appears in the middle of the second stanza (which is 21 lines and follows the 53 lines that make up the first stanza) “Why should you be one, too?” She never really answers this and proceeds to ask many more questions in the third stanza. When she has finally finished asking everything, we arrive at the brief fourth and fifth stanzas of four lines and six lines respectively, which do nothing to address any of the questions she asks.
I wonder if the transitions to new shorter stanzas represent her inability to answer the questions that she is asking. For example, the third stanza ends with, “…How had I come to be here, like them, and overhear a cry of pain that could have got loud and worse but hadn’t?” and then she moves back to the topic of the waiting room as the fourth stanza begins, “The waiting room was bright and too hot…” Abruptly moving from her thoughts to observations of the waiting room could suggest that she just doesn’t know the answers.