The Tuscania

March 6, 2013 | | 2 Comments




After having read the Edelman article and discussing in class how “In the Waiting Room”  is not exactly routed in truthful facts, I wandered about the date that she chose to associate the poem with.  I knew that if the National Geographic was not the reason I had to search something else.

I know from basic history classes that I recognized this date as an important one in regards to WWI, but couldn’t remember the exact reason why.  A quick search on Google (go digital literacy!) reminded me that February 5, 1918 was the day that the U.S. steamship Tuscania travelling in a British convoy was struck by a torpedo from a German U-boat, killing more than 200 American and British servicemen.

The third stanza in “In the Waiting Room” finds Elizabeth in deep thought about how or why she gets to be anyone, let alone who she is saying, “Why should I be…/…me, or anyone?”  A few lines later she wonders about her location on this critical day in history.  “how “unlikely”…/How had I come to be here, like them…?”  It seems to me that this date in history, a day when hundreds of men lost their lives in a single event, is very apropos to the questions Elizabeth is asking and the answers she is seeking.  What are the chances that she happens to be an “an I” and yet “an Elizabeth” so that she will never have to be in such a wartime situation?  How did this happen?  It seems she is wondering about the huge (and subtle) differences in the lives of all human beings; wonder how one can be sitting in a waiting room looking at “hanging breasts” and “shadowy gray knees” even while another drowns in a sea or is torn apart by explosions.  How, in the same day, on February 5, 1918, can such disparate circumstances befall humans when “similarities–/…held us all together/or made us all just one?”


Photo: Hoertz, Frederick. The Sinking of the Tuscania, British. 1918. Photograph. Everett Collection. SuperStock. SuperStock. Web. 6 Mar. 2013.

History: “U.S. Steamship Tuscania Is Torpedoed and Sinks.” A&E Television Networks, n.d. Web. 06 Mar. 2013.


2 Comments so far

  1.    Claire Bowen on March 7, 2013 1:47 pm

    Emma, how would you square (or could you) your great idea to look for the historical significance of Feb. 5, 1918 with Edelman’s separation of literality from truth, referentiality from metaphor? How does the citation of the date from the child’s perspective complicate/underscore the putative separation between adult (historical?) perspective and child (ahistorical?) voice of the poem?

  2.    Michelle Kaster on March 7, 2013 9:09 pm

    Emma, I also wondered how Elizabeth Bishop came up with the date February 5th, 1918 and why she included it within “In the Waiting Room.” When I think about this date and the context of the poem, it makes me believe that this an example of “war poetry” and that perhaps she could have put more emphasis on the background war that was going on during that time. In the last stanza especially, when she mentions “Then I was back in it/the war was on” I actually thought at first that she may have been dreaming everything that happened before this stanza, and was now bringing herself back to reality into the context of war.

Name (required)

Email (required)


Speak your mind