Isolation Ward

Foerster, Richard

Primary Category: Literature / Poetry

Genre: Poem

Annotated by:
Coulehan, Jack
  • Date of entry: Mar-14-1999
  • Last revised: Aug-29-2006


The narrator carries hothouse orchids as a gift to a friend in the hospital. When he gets there, he feels out of place, not having expected "barricades / against infection, the doors’ / pneumatic psshh . . . . " He regrets that his gift flowers are tame, when "the room / cried out for wildness." The place is sleek, efficient, and antiseptic. His friend--who is not described in the poem--"would never rise / from the motored bed." Who could blame the narrator for looking away? Or for wishing that he could have brought a gift of wilder, more glorious flowers? (40 lines).


This poem evokes the common human sense of discomfort and dismay when encountering a dying person. When he enters the person’s presence, his preconceptions are swept away and he doesn’t know what to do. He believes that what is possible for him to do (symbolized by the orchids) simply isn’t enough, so he retreats into fantasy ("I wish I could have summoned unpickable / splendors for him.") There is no physical or emotional contact with his friend, who is asleep. After all, the isolation ward is designed to minimize human contact, as well as microbial contact.

Primary Source



BOA Editions

Place Published

Rochester, N.Y.