28 August 2014

Poetry Thursday - Pathology of Colours by Dannie Abse

Bruise colours (via)

Pathology of Colours

I know the colour rose, and it is lovely,
but not when it ripens in a tumour;
and healing greens, leaves and grass, so springlike,
in limbs that fester are not springlike.

I have seen red-blue tinged with hirsute mauve
in the plum-skin face of a suicide.
I have seen white, china white almost, stare
from behind the smashed windscreen of a car.

And the criminal, multi-coloured flash
of an H-bomb is no more beautiful
than an autopsy when the belly's opened -
to show cathedral windows never opened.

So in the simple blessing of a rainbow,
in the bevelled edge of a sunlit mirror,
I have seen, visible, Death's artifact
like a soldier's ribbon on a tunic tacked.

- Dannie Abse (via /litmed.med.nyu.edul, where you can listen to him reading the poem.

(Also on that site he says: "I felt that poetry shouldn't be an escape from reality, but rather an immersion into reality, and part of my reality was, indeed, my hospital life at the time. And so I became prepared to write poems which had medical undertones. Louis Pasteur once said (talking of scientific inspiration), 'Chance favors the prepared mind,' and my mind was prepared to write poems that were medically colored. In the mid-60's, I wrote a poem called 'Pathology of Colours,' and it proved to be one of a number that I've written over the years which are medically thematic.")

Dannie Abse is regarded as one of the most important Welsh writers of the 20th century. While a medical student, he once met Dylan Thomas - an influence on much of his early work. He wrote novels as well as poetry, and his connection with Wales is interesting - a non-Welsh-speaking Jew, he has lived most of his life in London, and been published there. He was born in Cardiff in 1923 and after a spell at Cardiff University, went to London in 1943 to start his medical training - and "took to the café society in Swiss Cottage like a duck to water."

He has written or edited 16 or more books of poetry - most recently "Speak, Old Parrot" (2013), and also several novels, among which The Strange Case of Dr Simmonds & Dr Glas (2002) was longlisted for the Booker Prize.

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