Homage to Clotho: A Hospital Suite

Sissman, L. E. (Louis Edward)

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry
Secondary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Terry, James
  • Date of entry: Apr-21-1999
  • Last revised: Feb-22-2010


The seven sections of this long poem (128 lines) take the author from admission through a bone-marrow procedure (in front of student nurses), surgical prep, post-op recovery, urinary catheterization, and finally, a melancholic post-discharge confrontation with the decay and death of the natural world in late autumn. Sissman directs a sometimes withering sarcasm against both himself and his caregivers, nevertheless controlling a temptation to overdramatize his suffering or attack the hospital environment too harshly. Keen observation and carefully clever metaphors make poetry his best defense against his own impending death from Hodgkin’s disease.


Empathy is a major theme of the poem. Sissman asks why one male nurse must "talk also in his flat friendly voice / So far from showdowns, on a blase note / Of reassurance, learnt by classroom rote?" He speaks of "White-sheeted torture, practiced by a kind / Withdrawn face trained in the arts of love." But he blasts the giggling student nurses watching him suffer through the bone-marrow procedure. It is not so much pity Sissman desires, but rather dignity and understanding.

Primary Source

Hello, Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman


Little, Brown

Place Published




Secondary Source

Hello Darkness: The Collected Poems of L. E. Sissman