Theatre of Pain

Spires, Elizabeth

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Aull, Felice
  • Date of entry: Apr-03-1997


The narrator of this 37-line poem describes childbirth and its immediate aftermath, when she is recuperating in the hospital with her baby. The first 14 lines focus on the "theatre of pain"--the actual and conceptual space in which the pain of childbirth is experienced. Childbirth is painful, all-absorbing, surreal: " a dream of world . . . wave after wave knocking me down" until, after the anesthetic, "I was on an island where no wind blew . . . ."

Then, suddenly, the poem shifts, when, "with a final push you were born," and we realize that it is the child whom the poet is addressing. As the baby is born, the new mother is no longer alone; she and the baby are part of the same process, "leaving the two of us half drowned and clinging to the shore . . . ." "We would meet," she says, "meet for the first time." While the baby’s birth is "engraved upon the world forever . . . " paradoxically, the outside world is "completely, most completely, unaware of you."

As the narrator/new mother recovers in her hospital room, the day’s routine impinges on this intense experience and she becomes aware once again of her surroundings. Life and death go on around them; the world is oblivious, even as her own life has been altered forever. And yet the nurses too seem to recognize the tremendous implications: "amazed, . . . lifting you high into the air," they cry, "Welcome to the World!"


This poem captures, both in substance and form, the momentous experience of bringing a new life into the world. It recognizes the event as both great and ordinary. It highlights the dual nature of the mother’s experience; she is consumed by herself during childbirth, but in bringing forth another human being, she becomes "we."

Primary Source



W. W. Norton

Place Published

New York