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Andrew Ho
American Poetry
William Carlos Williams
By the Road to the Contagious Hospital
This poem is about a transition from death to life. I think there are two plausible interpretations. The first one is about the process of life and death in Nature and the other one is about that of human beings.
The first interpretation is as below. The first and second stanza has foreshadowed an inauspicious setting-the contagious hospital, blue mottled could, cold wind, muddy fields, dried weed, and scattering trees. The word "contagious" suggests that death resembles an epidemic that causes lethal spreading and hospital is associated with an asylum with diseases, pain and even death. "The surges of the blue mottled could" and " a cold wind" seemingly corresponds to the contagious hospital. The coulds are blue (gloom and melancholy) and mottled which suggests that the cloud is also sick because it is covered with stains and spots. Obviously, cold wind suggests the harshness and ruthlessness of death. Because of cold wind, the dried weeds are "standing and fallen patches of standing water" in the muddy fields. It implies the chaotic (muddy field), lifeless (dried weed) and stale (standing water) atmosphere.
The third and forth stanzas depict further dead scene-- " The reddish purplish, forked, upstanding, twiggy . . . small trees with dead . . . leafless vines." However, it ends up with a sense of hope but not very bright one for "dazed" spring approaches "sluggish." The forth stanza suggests that the dead aura is so overwhelming even the looming spring comes sluggish and uncertainly. The fifth and sixth stanza are still imbued with the threatening death because even new lives are not sure of they will be alive or die ("uncertain of all save that they enter"). The cold and "familiar" wind seems to presents the inevitable and routine-like circle of life and death because the word "familiar" suggests it's more than once that these new lives encounter such a cold wind. "Now the grass, tomorrow the stiff curl of wildcarrot leaf" is a obvious contrast. It means the now, the present time, the newborn grass thrive; however, tomorrow, the strong vitality of "wild"carrot still wear out (stiff curl). The next tow lines really present a sense of hope for the spring ultimately comes-" objects are definedíK clarity outline of leaf." The final stanza based on the former stanza deepens the promising and potential sense of hope-"they grip down and begin to awaken. "
The second interpretation is focused on the setting-contagious hospital rather than Nature. The first and second stanzas talk about the death-like atmosphere in hospital. The third stanza describes the appearance of inmates who stay in the contagious hospital. The "reddish" and "purplish" suggests those inmates' unhealthy complexion and "forked, twiggy, small trees, and leafless vines" are those mutated, abnormal and diseased figures. In a nutshell, the hospital is like a wasteland with little life. "The sluggish dazed spring" in the fourth stanza might refer to the doctors who lack strength in curing numerous patients in the lifeless and contagious hospital. However, the spring might also refer to newborn babies who are so unwillingly "enter(ing) on the new world naked." The fifth stanza refers the babies as "They." They are also unsure whether they will alive or die ("uncertain of all save that they enter.") "Grass" and "wildcarrot" in the sixth stanza refer to babies and grown-up patients in the hospital receptively. The seventh and last stanzas bring the hope for babies. The "stark dignity of entrance" means that every newborn life (entrance) has its own unaffected and noticeable dignity and value. The last stanza implies that life will go on though in such desolate place other patients die.
There are many /s/ sounds in this poem such as contagious, hospital, surge clouds, waste, standing ect. It might refer to the sound of cold wind and also suggest the harshness and struggle between life and death because it's hard to pronounce /s/ , we have to squeeze our breath out. As for the form of the poem, we can notice that the number of lines in first, third, fifth and seventh stanza are dwindling (6>5>4>2 lines). It might correspond to the theme of death because the number is decreased. As for the even stanza, the number of lines in each stanzas doesn't increase until the very last stanza it grows to four lines (2=2=2<4 lines). It also corresponds to the theme of live in this poem, it gives us a sense of hope for the number is increased, the life is thriving.

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