Tuesday, 1 January 2008


“Take away love, and our life is a tomb.” - Robert Browning

I was asked recently if my scientific training influences my creative writing. The answer of course has to be yes, as my mind is an all-encompassing maelstrom that mixes and merges all, then boils and distils, fractionates and remixes all manner of images, facts, imaginings and words. I have shared with you in the past a couple of such pieces, here is another poem whose images draw heavily upon a medical metaphor.


Each time the door of my chamber closes
I see the white bed-sheets stretch in front of me
Like a marble dissecting-table of an autopsy room;
And I lie there, alone, awaiting like a corpse, the anatomist
Who will dissect my deathly-cold flesh.

He cuts the frigid skin, in vain searching
For the reason of my unexplained necrobiosis,
The cause of my curious living death.
His hand, sure and experienced cuts, and with his eye impassive
He exposes my withered heart, atrophied but still beating.

He prosects and lays open each of its ventricles
Looking for clues, traces of some dreadful pathology;
But as he slices the icy muscle he observes its curious beatings.
He discovers a grain of past happiness still alive in its demise,
And smiles satisfied that he has shown the aetiology of my deathly life.

With what surprise he then demonstrates the shrivelled remnants of my soul
That still cling to executed hopes, deceptive wishes, unfounded fancy.
And as he lays bare my essence, stripped of its transparent membrane,
And observes its insubstantial parenchyma,
He witnesses its last, wild flight before its irreversible destruction.

His scalpel cuts tendons, severs muscle, his sure hand crushes bone
And annihilates cartilages so as to expose the convoluted cerebrum,
The fern gardens of the cerebellum, proving beyond doubt:
Logic has triumphed, brain rules, thought prevails
And perishable flesh has been vanquished, most inhumanly.

The Anatomy Lesson of Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is a 1632 oil painting by Rembrandt housed in the Mauritshuis museum in The Hague, the Netherlands. Dr. Nicolaes Tulp is pictured explaining the musculature of the arm to medical professionals. The corpse is that of the criminal Aris Kindt, strangled earlier that day for armed robbery. Some of the spectators are various patrons who paid commissions to be included in the painting. The event can be dated to 16 January 1632: the Amsterdam Guild of Surgeons, of which Tulp was official City Anatomist, permitted only one public dissection a year, and the body would have to be that of an executed criminal.
Sans Souci hosts Poetry Wednesday, please visit her blog for more poetical flights of fancy.

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